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Sunday, March 28, 2010

'The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie' Highland Pleasures #1 by Jennifer Ashley

From the BLURB:

The year is 1881. Meet the Mackenzie family--rich, powerful, dangerous, eccentric. A lady couldn't be seen with them without ruin. Rumors surround them--of tragic violence, of their mistresses, of their dark appetites, of scandals that set England and Scotland abuzz. 

The youngest brother, Ian, known as the Mad Mackenzie, spent most of his young life in an asylum, and everyone agrees he is decidedly odd. He's also hard and handsome and has a penchant for Ming pottery and beautiful women. 

Beth Ackerley, widow, has recently come into a fortune. She has decided that she wants no more drama in her life. She was raised in drama--an alcoholic father who drove them into the workhouse, a frail mother she had to nurse until her death, a fussy old lady she became constant companion to. No, she wants to take her money and find peace, to travel, to learn art, to sit back and fondly remember her brief but happy marriage to her late husband. 

And then Ian Mackenzie decides he wants her.

I absolutely, thoroughly, unashamedly LOVED this book. I finished it and straight away I wanted to go back to the beginning and dive in all over again.

This is an historical romance. Beth Ackerley is a widower with a small fortune, who is engaged to a notorious rake when she first meets Ian Mackenzie. Ian cannot stand the thought of lovely, innocent, blue-eyed Beth marrying such scum and promptly tells her as much. He also offers to marry her himself.

If this sounds like it could be any number of historical/regency romances, then you’d be right to wonder what was so special about this plot.
Well, Jennifer Ashley has ingeniously set herself apart from all other romance writers in the genre by writing a leading man who is mad. Quite mad; with documentation to prove it. Ian Mackenzie was thrown into an insane asylum when he was nine-years-old, and wasn’t released until he was twenty-years-old.

Lord Ian Mackenzie cannot look people in the eye. He hates crowds. He does not understand humor, sarcasm or subtly and needs direct instruction. He does not know why people clap at the end of plays, but he does it because he has been told he must. He can learn a foreign language in a few days and is a mathematical genius. He is obsessed with bowls from the Ming dynasty and is prone to bouts of rage.

Today, Ian Mackenzie would be diagnosed as having Asperger syndrome – a form of high-functioning autism. But in 1881 Ian was subjected to electro-shock therapy and strapped to his bed at night.

Ashley doesn’t shy away from Ian’s syndrome, or ‘madness’. It is present in every scene, every one of his actions and is always lurking just below the surface. It’s really quite clever, how Ashley works his symptoms into his narrative and the story – during points of climax, for example, when other characters are discussing recent events, Ian is preoccupied with the smell of Beth’s hair.
His syndrome makes for a thoroughly fascinating and intense character. It makes him into a very sweet romantic lead – he is convinced that he cannot love Beth, because he is not ‘built that way’, but readers (and Beth) begin to observe the way his neurosis focuses on her.
His symptoms also make for some very funny and surprisingly erotic scenes. Ian must speak bluntly and honestly, as he does not understand social nuances and subterfuge – which leads to a few scenes like this one;

Beth warmed. “My lord, I do believe you are the most flattering man of my acquaintance.”
Ian paused, his expression unreadable. “I state truths. You are perfect as you are. I want to see you bare, and I wish to kiss your cunny.”
The heat there flared. “And as always, I don’t know whether to run away from you or stay and bask in you attention.”
“I know how to answer that.” He snaked his strong fingers around her wrist. “Stay.” His hand was heavy and warm, and he traced a circle on the inside of her arm.

Beth is a perfectly complimentary leading lady for Ian. She grew up in the slums, became a companion to a wealthy woman who left her a fortune and married a vicar who she loved dearly, but who died within a year of their marriage. Beth is not a blushing virgin, but a widower who is aware of the pleasures of the flesh and misses intimacy with a man. And in Ian she is reminded of those pleasures (after nine years of going without) and she finds him irresistible when he makes his amorous intentions known.
Beth is patient, caring and understanding of Ian’s ‘madness’ – and she does not see his neuroses as being negative in any way. She is utterly charmed by him, and sees his brilliance beneath the madness.

‘The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie’ is also a murder-mystery. A bow-street runner by the name of Fellows is convinced that Ian is responsible for the murder of two ‘game girls’. Detective Fellows sets out to prove Ian’s guilt, while Beth is determined to prove his innocence.
The murder subplot is wonderfully robust and intriguing. It creates great narrative tension and adds new layers to Ian’s madness. It’s a real whodunit, a page-turned till the end.

‘The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie’ is the first book in Ashley’s ‘Mackenzie’s’ series. She beautifully sets up characters for future books, which will have Ian’s brothers in the main role. Each brother has a secret which will make for compelling reading. I cannot wait for the other books in the series, the next of which is ‘Lady Isabella's Scandalous Marriage’ released July 6th this year.

It was Ms. Smexy who first recommended this book, and I cannot thank her enough. It took me long enough to pull it from my TBR pile, but I’m sure glad I did!

Book Two coming 6 July 2010
Book 1: The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie (Ian) May 2009
Book 3: The Many Sins of Lord Cameron (Cam) August 2011
Book 4: The Duke Takes a Wife (Hart) May 2012


  1. Beth and Ian made such a wonderful couple. They worked well together. And what we saw of Mac and Isabella, I'm really looking forward to their story. Thanks for the review!

  2. I was going to skip this book entirely, but then I read Julie at Outlandish Dreaming's review and changed my mind. I picked up the book last weekend but haven't read it. Your review makes me glad I changed my mind and picked it up!!

  3. I loved this book as well! I devoured it within hours. Ian has quickly jumped to being one of my favorite heroes. Even for a tortured hero he is unique.

  4. This looks so good! Im gonna add it to my TBR!

    awesome review =)))

  5. I bought this ages ago when all I read were stellar reviews for it for weeks. I have yet to read it, though. You've inspired me to bump it back up towards the top of the TBR. Especially seeing the next tie-in book is coming out soon, too!

  6. I loved this one, too. Didn't realize that a cover was already up for LADY ISABELLA'S, though! Thanks for posting that. I'm hoping that we get more of Ian in his brother's books.


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