When Vanessa Kelly concluded her Improper Princesses series with The Highlander’s Princess Bride, which featured a sprawling family of gorgeous, eligible Scottish men, it seemed fated by the romance gods that the Kendrick family would play a part in her next book.
Lo and behold, The Highlander Who Protected Me is Kelly’s first book in a new series which will tell the love stories of the wild, but eminently lovable Kendricks, starting with ex-soldier Royal and the British heiress he’s sworn to protect.
With the fourth season of “Outlander” only days away, Kelly told us why there will always be fans of men in kilts.
The long wait for the return of “Outlander”—or Droughtlander, as some fans referred to the seemingly interminable passage of time—is almost over. Soon our favorite Highlander and his sassy sassenach will return to the small screen with their exciting adventures. Cue up the mania for all things Scottish!
That mania extends to readers as well, with their insatiable love for Highlander and Scottish romance. Even as other historical romance genres wax and wane, Scottish romance remains popular. Why do readers love it, with a particularly steadfast devotion to the Highlander hero archetype?
Let’s start with Scotland itself, especially the Highlands. They are a place of astounding beauty, what the Romantic poets would have characterized as awesome in the original sense of the word—inspiring awe. Scotland is a land of myth and magic, rich in cultural traditions and history. As Diana Gabaldon said in an interview, “there are stories under every rock in Scotland.”
That sense of Highland magic and story is beautifully captured in Outlander and its TV adaptation. Who can forget the mythic dance at Craigh na Dun on the Eve of Samhain, or the dramatic settings of loch, mountain and sky that form the backdrop of so many Scottish-set tales? The reader senses that almost anything could happen in the Highlands, not the least of which is stumbling upon a rugged Highlander with a brogue (let’s not underestimate the appeal of that brogue).
Ruggedness is a key element to the appeal of the Highlander hero. When it comes to manly men, it’s hard to find a more fitting archetype. Highlanders have to be rugged. They confront a physically challenging landscape, an often-wretched climate and frequent attacks from outsiders—or sometimes battles among themselves, quite honestly. Before the English invaded Scotland, clan often fought clan. The Scots could be notoriously argumentative and grudges led to feuds that lasted for decades, especially when a clan’s honor was at stake (this is a theme in my latest book).
You certainly won’t find our Highlander hero sitting around the gentlemen’s club, getting sloshed on brandy and staggering home to his plush bed, waiting for the over-worked valet to pull off his exquisitely polished boots. No, our heroes are facing down the elements, the enemy and sometimes each other. They are the epitome of the competent, courageous and canny alpha male.
And what does every good alpha male need? A strong, smart woman, of course. The archetypal Highlander hero is attracted to a verra strong woman, because he needs and wants her as much as she needs and wants him. Think of Jamie Fraser’s sister, for example. Jenny Murray is tough, smart and pretty, a classic Highland heroine who keeps the castle fires burning and takes no guff from her menfolk. They love her all the more for it, because they know she always has their backs.
For today’s romance reader, what could be better than a hero who truly appreciates a strong and capable woman?
Speaking of readers, I asked some of mine to list the qualities they most love in Highlander heroes. By far, the most important was loyalty—loyalty to family, to clan and to their women. These are men who fight for honor and love, and to protect their family and traditions, often against forces far superior in numbers and technology. As one of my readers noted, the English tried for decades to destroy the Highland culture. And even though they eventually did conquer the country and outlawed many Scottish traditions, they never truly conquered the soul of the Highlander.
Fiercely protective and committed to honor against all odds, the Highlander hero is the ultimate romantic. Even when he knows the cause is lost, he fights to the end, because he knows his fight is just. He’s willing to sacrifice everything, and rarely if ever takes the easy way out. That kind of self-sacrifice can be deeply, if often tragically, romantic.
The hero of my latest book, The Highlander Who Protected Me, is a true Highland warrior. Like Jamie Fraser, Royal Kendrick is a wounded warrior. But despite the damage he’s suffered to body and spirit, Royal remains true to the code of honor and loyalty, willing to make any sacrifice for family, clan and the woman he loves.
Coincidentally, my heroine is a sharp-witted, independent sassenach who, like Claire, chafes at the notion that she needs a man to protect her. In every way that matters, Lady Ainsley Matthews is Royal’s equal. When she does need a man to shield her from a truly terrible set of circumstances, she turns to her rugged Highland hero, knowing he won’t let her down.
Fierce, loyal, protective, honourable, courageous—these are the bedrock qualities that make the Highlander hero so special, and consistently bring readers back to the romance and magic of the Scottish Highlands.
Finally, let’s not forget the kilts. Always and forever the kilts.