One a Laird is an impeccably written story about finding happiness while fulfilling one’s duty. It is the sixth book in Mary Jo Putney’s Rogues Redeemed series, wherein the "rogues" of the series met and bonded after being imprisoned as spies in Portugal during the Napoleonic Wars. The “rogue” in this book is Kai Ramsay, who after attending college, was given the freedom from his grandfather to explore the world until it was time for him to come home to Scotland’s northern islands. For over a dozen years, Kai researched ancient ruins, collected priceless antiquities, and spied for England.
While Kai satisfied his wanderlust, Signy Matheson, the younger sister of Kai’s deceased fiancée, became indispensable to Kai’s grandfather, the Laird of Thorsay (think Orkney Islands). Signy was the eyes and ears for the aging Laird and traveled to the remote islands on the Laird’s behalf getting to know the people and their needs. She was also the one who requested Kai come home so he could assume the role of Laird. Thankfully, Kai returned home just in time to say goodbye to his grandfather before he died in grand fashion, befitting his Viking ancestors.
Mary Jo is extremely talented in writing likable characters. Both Kai and Signy are filled with depth, understanding, and compassion. Kai always knew he would be laird and he never resented coming home to assume the role of laird (too often heroes are written as whiny privileged brats at the beginning of books). I truly appreciated how Kai and Signy didn’t immediately fall in love, but only did so after observing each other’s empathy concerning the plight of their community and its residents. They worked together in an attempt to find a solution to the deplorable condition of the estate's finances, and their bond and love for each other grew out of mutual respect and admiration for each other.
I also appreciated the details provided of the location where this novel is set. For example, the prehistoric village of Skara Brae ("Finona Brae" in the book) was described perfectly! I visited the Orkney Islands in 2019 and was amazed by this stone-built Neolithic settlement, which was discovered in 1850 and is older than the Great Pyramids of Giza. Besides Skara Brae, Mary Jo blended her knowledge of the area into the story in a seamless fashion, including St. Manus Cathedral, the Standing Stones of Stenness, and the viking burial grounds.
I listened to the audiobook version of Once a Laird narrated by the highly talented Beverley A. Crick, who was simply sublime. Her narration flows naturally at an even pace and she uses differing voices and accents for all characters. She also exhibits the right amount of urgency, disappointment, and yearning in all the right places. Simply put, I can't recommend this audiobook and the entire series enough. Brava!