Book Review: The Highwayman

Rating: 3/5

Title: The Highwayman

Author: Kerrigan Byrne

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The story takes place in Victorian England and chronicles the story of two orphans. It starts in the orphanage where they meet, explains what drove them apart, and then shows their reunification in the end.

Characters 

Farah- Farah is the sweet and gentle heroine. She is regularly referred to as a fairy because of her small, frail appearance, silvery curls, and grey eyes. I liked her well enough. She is the daughter of an earl, but the rest of her family dies of Cholera. For reasons I never ascertained, she’s sent to an orphanage. Apparently, despite her vast fortune, she has no family, friend of the family, or servants that can care for her. I found this unbelievably odd, but okay.

She is introspective, thinking through her own feelings, wants and needs. She has some steel under her fairy exterior, and you see this through her work at Scotland Yard and the way she deals with the hero.

Dorian Blackwell – is your bad-boy hero. Cruel, ruthless and feared, he has taken over the underside of London and stretched his “influence” all the way up to parliament. He does his own dirty work, and you see that in the novel. Years in prison have hardened him, and while he extends his rule and dominance, he keeps himself cold and frozen on the inside. No one is allowed to touch him, physically or emotionally.

I liked Dorian, although I was less convinced by his change in the end. After the horrors he experienced in prison, I can see why he’s as cold and ruthless as he is. Why he doesn’t fear death. This is a romance novel, so he’s redeemed by the heroine’s love in the end.

Secondary Charcters

  • Murdoch – liked him. He’s Dorian’s valet.
  • Warington – barely see him. But he’s the villain in the background.
  • Sir Morley – he’s a brief alternative love interest. Was expecting way more from him. He’s perfectly set-up in the beginning as a “villain” trying to do the right thing, but that’s quickly tossed to the side.
  • Others – none terribly interesting or annoying

Plot

Warning on this plot. It’s your standard “love of a good woman saves a bad man” narrative. It’s softened a bit because they start out loving each other as kids, but it’s still about his redemption and finally letting himself “thaw” because of her love.

While it was done pretty well, the theme itself disturbs me. It’s definitely not something I buy into, and I think it’s a generally unhealthy message. You don’t marry someone thinking you’re going to change them!

Off my soap box and back to the story.

 

As children at the same orphanage, Dorian (known as Dougan then) and Farah fall in love and promise themselves to each other through a hand fasting. A priest takes liberties with Farah although he doesn’t rape her. She is rightfully super upset, and the two are going to escape together. No idea how they knew the kids were running off, but the priest and others are waiting for them and stop them. In the process, Dorian kills the priest and gets sent to prison.

Farah manages to escape a short time later, and through a series of highly improbable happenings, eventually ends up in London and gets a job with Scotland Yard. She calls herself Mrs. Mckenzie as if she and Dorian had truly married and lives as a virtuous widow.

Fast forward 17 years. Dorian is now a feared and powerful crime lord. He learns Warington, who was betrothed to Farah, has a hit out on Farah. Warington has “found” the long lost heiress and married her. He’s now trying to claim the fortune and title bequeathed to her by her dead parents.

Dorain offers to get Farah back what’s hers if she agrees to marry him. Of course, she doesn’t recognize him. The marriage will be in name only as Dorian allows no one to touch him. She agrees, but only if he’ll give her a child. She desperately wants a family.

Some back and forth, and he agrees. They marry, he eventually has sex with her, and they show Warington’s heiress as a lie and claim Farah’s title (which I didn’t realize women could inherit titles in Victorian England).

The sex scenes might be a bit disturbing. They have a violent undertone and bondage although there is no overt rape. These are not sweet passionate scenes.

After all this, she finally figures out who Dorian is. She’s devastated that he won’t love her. It had been one thing to think him dead and he can’t love her, another that he’s alive and won’t love her. She returns to her inherited home, where Warington strikes determined to kill her after all she’s taken from him.

Still not sure why he doesn’t just kill her as he reveals the syphilis he contracted has made him impotent and he can’t rape her as he wishes. But typical dumb villain, there’s time for Dorian to rescue her. Dorian realizes he’s in love with her and we get our first “love” scene and then our happily ever after.

 

All in there are a lot of pieces in the plot either far-fetched or that don’t make sense.

  • Why was Farah in an orphanage? No trusted family servants or friends?
  • Really, she got all the way to London and happened to find a family to take her in as one of their own?
  • Why did Warington wait so long to “find” the heiress? He could have married her at 16 or 18. Why wait until she’s 27? Why would anybody think she was to be found with a death certificate?
  • If Warington knew where she was to put a hit on her, why not just take the real heiress?
  • Why would the nun fake a death certificate? Especially for an earl’s daughter and heiress? Not convincing that more wouldn’t be done to find her.
  • Why wouldn’t Warington just kill her at the end?
  • Warington’s syphilis spread awfully fast. According to the CDC, Stage 1 is 90 days after exposure. stage 2 is another couple weeks, and stage 3 is where the disease goes latent and you can have it for 3-15 years before it starts to attack your organs. Good thing he was impotent and couldn’t give his much more virulent strain to anyone else.

 

To get this Book to a 5

There is so much it would take to move this book up to a five. I need a lot more explanation of what was going on earlier on and why. It has so many holes but is so important to the story.

Frankly, I also need more from Dorian. Or, perhaps, less. It sounds as if the author did research on the prisons of the time period (I have no strong desire to find out if what’s portrayed us the truth). While these hardened Dorian, they harden him too much. There needs to be something left to redeem. I need his change to be believable.

I also need the villain to be more believable. Only reason I can see that he waits until Farah is 27 to trot out his imposter heiress is to make the timeline work for Dorian to get out of jail and build his empire.