I went through a phase a few years ago where I sought out every retelling of the Tam Lin story that I could get my hands on. So the title An Earthly Knight was instantly familiar to me, and I knew I needed to read this book. I was especially intrigued by the author’s choice to return the story to its original setting, medieval Scotland.
Unfortunately, the historical aspect falls a little flat. McNaughton has a tendency to get a bit infodump-y. I wasn’t familiar with the politics of that time and place, and so I appreciated being brought up to speed, but there has to have been a more deft way of doing it than having one character expounding history to another character who already knew that history.
I also wasn’t thrilled with the romance. Tam Lin was too Generically Nice, and his rival, Earl William, was too one-dimensionally nasty. If Tam Lin needed a foil, I’d have preferred either a bad man who was charming on the surface, or an honorable man that Jeanette simply had no feelings for.
As for the supernatural, it feels a little tacked on, and it might have worked better if it had been either emphasized more or omitted entirely. (Tam Lin without the supernatural — that could be intriguing. What if Jeanette had thought he was fae-touched, only to learn he was *just* the dispossessed heir to Carter Hall…) As it stands, that aspect comes almost out of nowhere and seems rushed.
What did work was the coming-of-age aspect of the tale. Jeanette begins as a free-spirited teenage girl, and as she is pushed into a social-climbing role, she allows herself to be swept up into snobbish and selfish attitudes for a time. I didn’t like her much during the middle of the book. After several events that make her question this new outlook on life, Jeanette begins to find her old self again, albeit a more mature version of that self. In the end, on some level, she’s not so much choosing between William and Tam Lin, but between the person she is when she’s with William and the person she is when she’s with Tam Lin. I did find that aspect interesting.