Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie by Jennifer Ashley

Minor Plot Spoilers

This is my first read of any of Jennifer Ashley’s works and I was not disappointed, in fact, I was very, very pleased. I found her writing style to be flowing and well thought out, and her ability to weave a tale that kept me wondering, *sighing* and hopeful through the entire novel made this, for me, a story that was “un-put-downable” (Yep, I made up that word. ) *grins*

This is one of those times that, even though much of the story is based on Ian’s past, we didn’t need to have it all laid out in a prologue. Instead, we learn through flashbacks told from his brothers’ points of view, as well as Ian’s, about the youngest Mackenzie being institutionalized and subjected to all manner of horrible experiments performed under the guise of "treatments." Jennifer Ashley did an excellent job of giving us just enough details of his dismal existence for us to really understand what Ian had been subjected to, without going into so much detail as to make this an uncomfortable read.

From what I understand from reading other reviews, Ian’s “madness” is a form of autism, Aperger's Syndrome, though I don’t remember anywhere in the book where they gave it any specific medical name, not even one accepted during the time of this story. “Madness” is such an all encompassing word, but I suppose with the way the characteristics of his condition manifested themselves, “madness” would have summed it all up quite well.

I loved that we were introduced to Ian right away, and got a glimpse of one of his “quirks” – his passion for Ming vases – early on. A man of complex contradictions, Ian is often withdrawn, yet easily enraged. He has a childlike honesty about him – he literally doesn’t know how to lie – yet understands that he can avoid telling the truth by withholding it. If I were a licensed psychiatrist/psychologist, I would likely still be on page 1 trying to unravel the complex and intricate weave that makes Ian, Ian – a hero unlike any other hero I have ever read about, and I can’t tell you how refreshing that is.

Beth, a compassionate, nurturing woman unconcerned with society’s ideas of propriety and morals spent most of her life giving service to those in need. She had cared for her alcoholic mother until she passed, then as the wife of Thomas, the vicar, she cared for those in his flock. When, after only a year of marriage he became ill, Beth cared for him until he passed. She was fortunate enough to then become the companion of an wealthy, opinionated old woman with whom she spent many years, and when the woman became ill, Beth cared for her, too, until she died. Care, care, care…caring for people who were unable do so for themselves was something Beth was all too familiar with. Only a person who had walked in Beth’s shoes could see past the rumors and the lies which shroud the Mackenzie family. She was able to peel away the layers and see that there was much more to them than they allowed people to see. It took very little time for her to realize how much Ian needed her, but knowing what I did about Ian, I had expected that this would turn out to be a story of unrequited love. I believed that Beth would care for him, maybe even grow to love him, in spite of his madness – or perhaps because of it – yet never feel his love in return. Nor would she expect it because he had made it clear to her that he couldn’t… literally could not, love her.

I found it interesting that Ian believed he couldn’t feel a person’s love for him, nor could he return that love and yet, he felt and reacted to fear, anger, disgust, compassion, lust… so this didn’t make a lot of sense to me. When he first met Beth, he had to have felt something for her or he wouldn’t have been compelled to help her. As the story progressed and situations came about, he reacted much the way a man in love would; he became protective, possessive, domineering and demanding. So, I found myself thinking that perhaps because he had never felt this kind of love for someone, he didn’t know what to label these new emotions, or how to express them. Thankfully this issue was resolved to my satisfaction towards the end of the book.

I would love to go on and on, dissecting each little nuance of both Ian and Beth, but there are so many *sigh* moments and subtle things to love about them both that it would take pages and pages - and honestly, I don’t want to deprive you of finding them yourself because it’s those moments that make this, for me, a truly great story.

Ian’s 3 brothers, Hart, Mac and Cameron, played big parts in this book and their characters, as well as their checkered pasts, were so well developed that I am already impatiently awaiting their stories.

While The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie is not exactly what I had anticipated, it turned out to be more than I had hoped for. By page 5 I was completely captivated by Ian and by page 13, I wanted to bring him home with me and love him forever. *sigh* But I will have to be content in knowing that he has his Beth to love him like no one else ever could.

Update: There have been many discussion about Ian's "madness," and what it is exactly. I sent Ms. Ashley an email today and asked her if she would share with us some insight into writing Ian, his "madness," and her research. I was thrilled to have gotten an answer right away and with her permission, I'm posting her reply:

"Ian has Asperger's (which, as you say, is high-functioning autism). I wanted to explore what it would be like to have Asperger's before it or autism was recognized or even had a name.

People with Asperger's can have a variety of traits, and not every person has the same (e.g., some are fine with looking into other people's eyes, some have a great sense of humor, while others are painfully shy and take everything literally). So Ian has Asperger's and a little OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder). A great memory for certain things, usually very focused on details.

I did a ton of research on Asperger's and autism (heartbreaking stuff), and then started writing. Once I was writing, though, I totally fell in love with Ian! He was the toughest hero I've ever written, but he was worth the pain. :-)

Jennifer Ashley"

My sincere thanks to Ms. Ashley for sharing that information with us, and for giving us Ian, a truly *sigh* worthy hero.

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