Sarah Gabriel – “Keeping Kate”

9 Dec

GENRE: Romance / Historical
PUBLISHED: Avon Books, 2005

SERIES: Not really, but Stealing Sophie is the story of Kate’s sister.

WHY THIS NOVEL: It’s free to read online as part of Avon’s Love gives back promotion.

The back blurb:
“The brazen beauty is said to possess fairy magic, and has successfully charmed and seduced soldiers out of their most carefully guarded secrets to aid her kinsmen. But now the infamous Kate MacCarran has met the one man who seems immune to her legendary allure…
Captain Alec Fraser of the Black Watch has no doubt that Katie Hell is trouble. Hadn’t she just drugged him, kissed him, then searched through his belongings? Now the elusive spy is his captive, and it is Alec’s duty to transport her to Edinburgh. But the Highland hellion challenges him at every turn, determined to escape with her secrets. Soon Alec discovers that keeping Kate out of mischief may be an almost impossible task…just as Kate realizes that surrendering to his passionate love may be her most dangerous mission yet.”

Confessions: I read Sarah Gabriel before, then writing under another name. I read Keeping Kate online and because of that it took me around one week to finish it. I read it despite words like “spies,” “brazen beauty” and “Highland hellion” in the back blurb.

Alec and Kate first see each other when Alec is in London together with his friend Jack to demonstrate Highland fighting techniques at the Queen’s birthday. Alec and Kate don’t talk then, Alec is fighting after all at that moment, but they both are very aware of the other. Right from the start, there seems to be something mystical about their connection. The next time they meet is several months later, when Alec, officer and lawyer for the Highland Regiment, catches Kate stealing documents from him.

Kate is a spy for the Jacobite cause. She possesses the fairy gift of glamourie which helps her charm men into doing what she wants. So when she tries to get her hands on a list of prisoners she is a) surprised Alec is the officer who has them; b) sure she can get the documents: she drugs his tea and she has her glamourie; c) stunned that her glamourie doesn’t seem to work properly on Alec; d) still strongly drawn and attracted to Alec which leads to some passionate embraces – the first time she does that as a spy – before the drugs take effect; e) caught because Jack regains consciousness and realizes Kate is “Katie Hell,” the “Notorious Highland Wench” sought for spying and theft. Kate is thrown into prison. After Alec realizes realizes Kate is in for something more than mere questioning thanks to Colonel Grant, a former victim of Kate’s spying, he gets custody of her to take her to a judge in Edinburgh.

Alec is a good-guy kind of hero. He’s silent and he sees himself more on the staid side of life than on the wild side. Officially, he works for the crown but in secret he works for the Jacobite side like Kate (not a spoiler, right there in the prologue). Kate is able to crack the wall around his feelings and meeting Kate makes him realize what he had forgotten about himself and that there is more to him than he always believed.

Kate is a fiery-feisty beauty who bedazzles men left and right, even more so because of her gift. She’s stubborn spirited and repeatedly escapes Alec. There are only a few hints that she’s aware she always relies on her gift to get her through, and it often seems like she can’t listen to others at all. Granted, Kate is one of the better written heroines of that ilk and I understood her need to escape Alec, but it still didn’t look like she really thought further than her need to escape:

Halting his horse along the road, Alec sat and stared in disbelief as Kate crossed the road away from the inn, boldly and openly. She had not even waited for cover of darkness. Stunned, he simply watched as she headed in the same direction as last night. The little vixen had not bothered to vary her route, he noticed. (210)

Up to the point when Alec and Kate finally reveal their secrets, the story largely read as a story with enemies-attracted-to-each-other as its conflict, despite that I knew about Alec being a spy too. When they finally did talk, I wasn’t convinced of the reason why Alec didn’t say anything sooner. In fact, I’m not sure what his reason really was. Both Alec and Kate work for the Jacobite side. Kate doesn’t know this, but Alec does. But he can’t trust Kate because…umh…he’s not sure if they are really on the same side?

Alec’s unconvincing reason to remain silent turned the conflict of the story – falling in love with someone you can’t trust – into something pointless and fake, lessening my view of the wonderful scenes between them before when they try to resist falling in love with the “enemy.” The internal conflict wasn’t a genuine conflict from that perspective. The external conflict – finding missing weapons – now turned out to be the actual conflict of the story. The problem for me was, it got much less attention than the fake one before the big revelation and so didn’t seem all that interesting. It also imbalanced the story, IMO, because it turned a character-driven story suddenly into a plot-driven story. I now thought the only reason why Alec didn’t say anything sooner was for story reasons to generate sexual tension.

Actually, my interest started to dwindle slightly before the big revelation, after they reach Kate’s home. I don’t know. What then followed seemed more rushed compared to the time the story was given before. Two confrontations (Kate’s family, the judge) turned out to be slightly anti-climactic and resolved in a rather “romance-like” fashion, even a matchmaking character showed up.

Keeping Kate then turned from an engrossing read into a story I asked myself how many pages I still had to go. Which is a shame, really, because the strong attraction between Alec and Kate and the almost mystical quality of it is very well done. How they try to resist the pull between them and were drawn to each other again and again was the best part of the story, IMO. I was really into their dilemma of being attracted to the “enemy.”

On the whole, Keeping Kate is a well written story with a beautifully done attraction between the main characters and a strong sense that they belong together. It’s just a real bummer that its ending didn’t life up to its strong first half in my view.

Would I recommend this novel? Maybe.

Would I read this novel again? Probably not.

Grade: 3,5 / 5


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