Lord Ian Mackenzie was abused by his father, who later had him committed to an asylum because his mind works differently than everyone else's. After their father passed, Ian's oldest brother, Hart, the new duke, had him released, and in gratitude, he now uses his unique brain to help Hart with business and political matters. But there are still whispers throughout society that Ian and his three brothers have been engaged in all sorts of scandals and possibly even murder. Ian is an avid collector of Ming bowls, and when he discovers that a rival collector with financial problems and a shocking sexual history is about to marry a vulnerable widow, Ian feels it's his duty to put a stop to it. When he meets the woman in question, his mind is made up. He offers to marry her himself, and although she initially refuses, he doesn't give up easily. When they meet up again in Paris, this time he persuades her to accept his suit, and they're wed. But when a detective inspector from Scotland Yard shows up, claiming that Ian is a murderer, it may ruin everything.
Beth Ackerley grew up in the slums, struggling to survive, until she met and fell in love with a kind minister. However, they were only married for less than a year before he died of a fever, leaving Beth alone again. She found work as a companion to an elderly woman who had no other family, and when the woman passed on, she left her fortune to Beth. Now Beth is a wealthy, young widow who has an unscrupulous man trying to pull the wool over her eyes. When she meets Ian and he makes his revelations about her betrothed, Beth is flabbergasted, yet oddly amused by his directness. But when he makes his proposal, she can't accept. Not only does she not even know him, he's way out of her league. When they meet up again in Paris, though, she can't seem to resist his charms. Then the detective inspector arrives, wanting Beth to spy on Ian for him, but something deep inside tells her that Ian can't possibly be guilty of the crimes of which he stands accused. Once married to Ian, she's no longer within the detective's reach, and he and his brother seem to simply want to brush the incident under the rug. But knowing that whatever happened haunts Ian and that he won't be at peace until the truth comes out, Beth's love for him makes her determined to solve the case herself even though it may place her in mortal danger.
The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie is the first book in Jennifer Ashley's Mackenzies & McBrides series and the first full-length novel by her that I've read. It begins the saga of the four Mackenzie brothers, all of whom are scandalous in one way or another. Each of them is a tortured genius but all sorts of rumors follow them regarding their shocking mistresses, dark sensual appetites, and (gasp!) even tales of murder. In this installment, we have Ian, the youngest Mackenzie brother, who spent years in an asylum until his oldest brother, Hart, a duke, finally released him. Now he puts his unusual talents to work helping Hart with investments and political matters. Ian chances to meet Beth, a woman from the opposite side of the tracks, who unexpectedly became an heiress and who is engaged to a man Ian knows is not on the up and up, so he informs Beth of this fact and then offers to marry her himself. She politely refuses, but they meet up again in Paris, where Beth can no longer resist Ian's charms. However, they've also been followed to France by Detective Inspector Lloyd Fellows who is convinced that Ian has committed two murders. Fellows believes that Ian got off the first time because of his powerful brother, but now that there's a fresh corpse that's linked to Ian, he's not about to let it happen again and wants Beth to be his informant. With the threat of prison or worse yet, execution, hanging over their heads, it's all but impossible for Ian and Beth to truly find their happy ending until the mystery is solved, and Beth won't stop until she figures it all out and clears her new husband's name.
Ian is a genius in more ways than one, but most people have never seen or accepted him for what he truly is. Instead, he was declared insane when he was just a boy and thrown into an asylum by his abusive father where he was basically tortured for years in the name of so-called doctors trying to "cure" him. When his father finally passed on and his beloved oldest brother, Hart, became the duke, Hart immediately had Ian released. Out of gratitude, he uses his unique mind to help Hart with his work. Ian is also a collector of Ming bowls, and when he discovers that a rival collector, who he knows has money problems and deviant sexual appetites is about to marry a vulnerable widow who just came into a fortune, he can't let it rest, especially after he sees the lovely woman in question. Instead, he tells her everything, and in his usual direct way, asks her to marry him. He desperately wants her in his bed, and because Beth is a respectable lady, he believes it's the honorable thing to do. After she refuses, he follows her to Paris, where he continues trying to persuade her, eventually winning her over, but when Fellows shows up, the man's vendetta against the Mackenzies may ruin everything. Beth wants the truth about the murders, but believing he's protecting someone he loves and also not wanting to taint the beauty of their burgeoning relationship, Ian refuses to tell her anything, which sends Beth down a dangerous rabbit hole that could end in Ian's worst fears coming true.
I absolutely fell for Ian and loved the uniqueness of his character as the first neurodivergent romance hero I've ever read. He reminds of a hybrid between Sheldon Cooper (The Big Bang Theory), Sherlock Holmes (Elementary), and Shaun Murphy (The Good Doctor) with his own individual personality. It was utterly heartbreaking to think of how people with autism were treated in years past and how they were often declared insane just like Ian was. Because of the different way in which he experiences emotions, he treats the whole incident of being locked away in a rather matter-of-fact manner, but there are hints throughout of just how much it truly affected him. In reality, he's a genius with a photographic memory. He can instantly memorize almost anything: books, documents, pieces of music, etc. He's refreshingly direct, but at the same time, he can be very sweet and charming. His exquisite memory paired with his love of the fairer sex makes him a very adept lover who can pleasure a woman until she can't see straight, and his candor makes him great at naughty talk, too. He's also loyal to a fault when it comes to his older brothers, all of whom he adores, even though they don't always agree or get along, and that devotion extends to Beth from the moment he meets her.
Beth was the daughter of a gentlewoman, but after her abusive, con artist father ruined them, she grew up in the slums and spent years in the workhouse. Although unable to find much respectable work, she finally met and married her beloved husband who was a kind, forward-thinking minister. The two shared a great love, but it was all cut short when he died of a fever less than a year later. After that, Beth became a companion to a wealthy older woman who had no family, so when she passed on, she left her entire fortune to Beth, who has spent so many years living frugally, she hardly knows what to do with it all. Wanting a quiet life, she accepted a marriage proposal from the son of a friend of the woman for whom she used to work, but when Ian makes his revelation, she immediately breaks it off. Equal parts shocked and amused by his instant marriage proposal, she politely declines, but when she meets up with him again in Paris, he proves to be irresistible. She'd very much enjoyed the pleasures of the marriage bed and misses that intimacy, so thinking that perhaps she can indulge a little in being a worldly woman, she propositions Ian who eagerly accepts, beginning a passionate affair. But when Fellows comes sniffing around, wanting Beth to be his spy, she refuses, and Ian finally persuades her to marry him to protect her from Fellows's inquiry. She desperately wants to clear her new husband's name, though, so when Ian refuses to tell her what really happened, she decides to take matters into her own hands and investigate for herself. I loved Beth just as much as Ian and think that she was the perfect match for him. She's completely accepting of Ian's quirks and oddities right from the start, always treating him like a normal person, and seeing the beauty in his "madness." I adored her for never losing faith in his innocence even when Fellows pressed hard and tried to turn her. She's a smart woman in her own right, solving a case that had stumped others for a long time, and she was brave to set out on her own to do it. I also liked how loving, giving, and loyal she is to Ian, never holding back any part of herself from him.
Jennifer Ashley started the Mackenzies & McBrides over a decade ago, and since then, it's grown into a long-running series with plenty of cross-over characters, some of whom are introduced in this volume. Ian's next-youngest brother, Mac, and his wife, Isabella, have been estranged for three years. Mac, it seems, never stopped loving Isabella, and although she was the one to walk away from the marriage, she now seems to regret it on some level. We don't learn exactly why they parted ways, so I'm looking forward to finding out their story in the next book, Lady Isabella's Scandalous Marriage. Cam, the second-oldest Mackenzie brother has a scandalous story of his own, having had a wife who purportedly went mad and tried to kill him and their infant son before committing suicide. He becomes the hero of the third book, The Many Sins of Lord Cameron. Then there's oldest brother, Hart, Duke of Kilmorgan, who also lost a wife and who's harboring some shocking secrets of his own. It's hinted that he once shared a great love with a woman who left him, and they'll be reunited in the fourth book, The Duke's Perfect Wife. Detective Inspector Fellows frustrated me at times with his seemingly irrational hatred of the Mackenzies, but we learn things about him that make his feelings more understandable and that make him redeemable. He becomes the hero of the novella, The Untamed Mackenzie. Then there's Cam's charming, mischievous son, Daniel, who appeared to be a teenager in this volume, although his exact age was never mentioned. He will be the hero of Book #6, The Wicked Deeds of Daniel Mackenzie. There will also be several between-the-books novellas that revisit all of the characters.
Years ago, when I put The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie on my TBR list, I'd heard lots of good things about it, and I'm happy to say that it definitely lived up to the hype for me. It can be tiring to read the same character tropes all the time, so it's fun to periodically mix things up. Ian is a character who definitely fit the bill for that. I don't know of a lot of romances that have autistic main characters, and as I mentioned before, this is the first one I've read. His unique, out-of-the-ordinary persona was a refreshing change that in no way made him unappealing. Maybe it's because I'm a bit of an oddball myself, but I found myself relating to him very well. I think Beth was the perfect foil for him, as someone who saw him as a whole person in spite of his disability and who loved him anyway. These two just fit together like two peas in a pod, complimenting each other superbly. The love scenes are deliciously steamy. The mystery surrounding the murders was very well done, keeping me guessing as to what really happened. I enjoyed how all the Mackenzie brothers pull together and look out for one another even though they don't always get along. I also liked learning a little about each of them and their scandalous backgrounds and look forward to reading more about them in the books to come. But for now, I'm very impressed with this first foray into Jennifer Ashley's full-length historicals. I couldn't have asked for a more romantic, sexy, entertaining, and perfect read.
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