I am an action movie kind of girl, so when a book blurb creates a set-up of the quest for a lost treasure with a tomb raiding hero paired with a noble born woman hiding her identity, I immediately hoped the book will be the romance equivalent of National Treasure or Indiana Jones. In Karen Hawkins' book The Taming of a Scottish Princess all of those great elements were present, but everything was written in a more subdued style with good character development, but a little less romance and adventure.
The mystery of the Hurst Amulet has been a personal quest for Egyptologist Michael Hurst, leading him to the far reaches of the empire tracking down clues to its final resting place. In the previous books of the series, three puzzle boxes were collected and revealed to form a map of the amulet's whereabouts. Michael returns to England just long enough to have the map translated before the search quickly moves to the island of Barra off the coast of Scotland. The mystery get more intriguing for Michael when he learns his assistant Miss Jane Smythe-Haughton has a deep connection to the island and that he may not have known her as well as he thought.
There was a lot of time spent in the story building up Jane's character from mild-mannered assistant to a woman of independence and intelligence. Her journey to Barra becomes a journey into the choices she has made in her life; where she has made her mistakes and how she has become the stronger for them. I appreciated that Jane understood how some of her youthful choices had consequences for her adult self, and how she makes a commitment to repair that damage. The family dynamics that unfold on Barra were interesting, and while there were villains in Jane's life, they seemed to have realistic motivations. She made the choice to forgo her attraction to Michael and keep a business only friendship between them. However, watching her take care of him, hearing their conversations and the sharp repartee they have, it's clear that there is a much deeper connection that both are reluctant to acknowledge. The fun of the story is watching the blinders come off both of them so they finally see how much they value the other.
Not having read the previous books I'm not sure how much of Michael's character had been established before his own story. In this title it was hard to like him as his manner toward Jane is very distant, to the point that he's barely aware that she is a woman. He ignores the many small things that she does to keep his life and livelihood from falling apart, lumping all her actions into the employer/employee relationship. It bothered me how Michael disregarded Jane's discomfort in returning to Barra, how he just kept chipping at her resolve to keep her past private as if she were any other excavation. Only when Jane starts giving into his digging and lets him see her vulnerabilities does he also start seeing her as a woman, an equal, and someone he is attracted to. By the time Michael's epiphany came, a lot of the damage was done and I was never fully invested in his happiness.
While The Taming of a Scottish Princess may have not have been a summer blockbuster, it was enjoyable reading about intelligent characters solving puzzles, reconciling the past to the possibilities of the future, and unlocking the mysteries of their own hearts.
~Reviewed by Sara Anne Elliott