Antonia Barclay and Her Scottish Claymore, by Jane Carter Barrett, has the appearance of a fun romance novel. The setting is the Scottish Highlands in the 1700s. The characters include a feisty, beautiful heroine; a handsome, chivalrous hero; vile villains; and a royal family. However, Antonia Barclay and Her Scottish Claymore isn’t much more than it appears.
I knew I was in for a mediocre book when, as a foreword, the author wrote, “And while we’re romping, let’s also make a pact: anachronisms, prochronisms, and all forms of social, political, and fashion correctness shall be cheerfully overlooked in favor of frolic and adventure.” In other words, ignore all the ways in which the book makes no sense or falls short, and just “have fun.” It is a writer’s job to tell a cohesive story, and if research is too much of a burden, the author should tell a different story. Ms. Barrett, may I say, I will make no pact.
The Bad News
Highland romances are all the rage right now, thanks to the huge success of the Outlander TV show. The Outlander books, written by Diana Gabaldon, are bestsellers.
Gabaldon’s books are not easy to pigeonhole, however, because they combine historical fiction, paranormal, mystery, and romance. Antonia Barclay and Her Scottish Claymore is practically the exact opposite of the Outlander books, the negative image, if you will. Where Gabaldon explores deep emotion and moral questions, Barrett merely skims the surface of her characters. Where Gabaldon forms intricate and intriguing stories, Barrett only borrows tired story devices.
Perhaps, you’re saying, it’s unfair to compare every novel that takes place in Scotland to Outlander. Well, you’re right. But when said novel is clearly hoping to ride the coattails of the success of Outlander, comparisons must be made.
Even when Antonia Barclay and Her Scottish Claymore is compared to lesser known novels, like books by Monica McCarty and Grace Burrowes, it comes up short. For example, Grace Burrowes’ romance novels are set in England and Scotland in the 18th Century. Although she doesn’t dive into the minutia of daily life, she knows enough about the time period to paint a credible picture. The dialogue isn’t full of slang or nonsensical dialogue that snaps me out of the story.
And while Burrowes’ characters aren’t as well-developed as, say, Claire and Jamie Fraser in Outlander, I still feel I know them very well. Their choices, their thoughts, and their dialogue have enough flavor to give me their measure.
Barrett’s characters come off like cartoons. Antonia, the heroine, is billed as empowered and independent, but she comes off as a whiny, spoiled brat. I find it infinitely intriguing that a female author does justice to the male characters, like Mr. Claymore, but can’t fully develop a female character. Empowerment and independence doesn’t have to be written as petulant. In fact, there’s very little to endear a reader to the lead character. And the very market the book is targeting — women — will be completely turned off.
Getting back to the nonsensical dialogue, Barrett’s attempt to create in-jokes are impotent. Antonia’s would-be suitor, a disgusting ogre of a man named Basil Throckmorton, keeps talking about “plucking” her. I can only suppose that it’s Barrett’s attempt at a funny way of avoiding the F-bomb. It just comes off as stupid. I can almost picture a short brainstorming session in which the first idea that occurs to the author is the the only idea that’s explored.
The Good News
There are bits of a good story Antonia Barclay and Her Scottish Claymore. Weaving Mary, Queen of Scots, and a royal scepter, into the story made it more intriguing. Throckmorton’s father makes a believable and interesting antagonist.
The writing isn’t as good as I’d like it to be, but you can see where a skilled editor could coax better writing from Barrett. Barrett needs to put down the thesaurus and keep her sentences simpler. She needs to know that the reader can deduce some things, and doesn’t need everything spelled out, using several adverbs, a couple of similes, and several adjectives in each reference. The whole book has the feeling of a first draft.
In the end, there’s some potential here, but not enough for me to recommend this book.
I received a free copy of this book from the publisher to review and post my honest opinion.