About a third of the way into this book I thoroughly thought I’d be giving it 5 stars. But it slowly lost stars the further I got into it. The first third was an interesting story line and great tension between the hero and heroine. Their first kiss…scorcher. But ultimately I had a lot of problems with this book.
First: The Hero (Iain) & Heroine (Judith)
Iain is so sexy and tender and such a great hero. Early on I thought he was refreshing, which is a bit strange to say about a book written in 1992. What I thought was refreshing was that for the most part, he seemed to accept his attraction to Judith. He wanted her and he went for her. There was some normal hesitation, but it quickly passed.
There was no mention at all that he didn’t want to fall in love or anything like that…until after she’s in love with him and they are “together”. All of the sudden in the middle of the book he changes and starts worrying about being vulnerable and he doesn’t want to fall in love. He can’t fall in love. It would make him weak. This is so out of character for him at this point at 200 something pages in, that I was shocked. I don’t know where that came from.
Judith was kind of a typical romance heroine. A woman not of her times, forward thinking, strong and wild. Unlike every other woman ever. Get it? We’ve seen it a thousand times before. Though, this book being from 1992, perhaps she was amongst the first. She’s very loyal and of course perfectly nice. Emphasis on perfect. Despite the fact that she’s English and the Scots hate the English, she somehow wins them all over within half a day and now they love her. Love her like they’re cheering for her in a courtyard by the masses and defending her love her, not more than 24 hours after arriving at their clan. Such a big deal was made before this about them hating her that I don’t even understand why they bothered with that part of the storyline since nothing came of it. Throughout the entire book there is this undercurrent of She’s English, no one will like her, she’s an outsider. But not once in the book is that ever an actual problem, so it just became strange that it was still a central theme at page 85% finished.
Judith’s personality is driven home to frustration. Towards the end of the book they are attacked by a rival clan and Judith decides not to let them intimidate her. A small Englishwoman on Scottish land, attacked by 20 some Highland warriors who mean to kidnap and kill her clan members and rape her, and she gets mouthy with them. Not only that, but she asks them questions… and they answer! Upon arriving at the rival clans Keep she actually bodily shoves the leader away from her and marches herself inside. At one point she even tells them not to hit a member of her clan, who is himself a warrior, and they should hit her instead! Come. On. It was so ridiculous, over the top, far fetched, and completely unnecessary at this point to solidify her “strength” of character. I found it exasperating.
Second: The Plot…or rather, plots
We have the she’s English plot, the pregnant friend who is going to die during childbirth plot, the who is Judith’s father plot, the problems within the Maitland clan plot. The Maitland clan plot was this weird feminist journey in the year 1200 where Judith was trying to get the men to recognize the value of their women and treat them more as equals. Oh, and I forgot, somewhere in there was a romance plot too. And within that plot there was the do they or don’t they trust each other plot.
It was very convoluted and Julie Garwood tried to weave it all together through a series of partially completed events and conversations. I realize this is to try to form a complete story that unfolds on many levels. But there’s a very long stretch in the middle and towards the end of the book where nearly every conversation is left unresolved. Everything, even simple conversations, is interrupted or its not the time to finish it, etc. and saved for a later time. And there were so many people involved in every conversation that they would devolve into nonsensical, attempting-to-be-comical, dialogue that was difficult to follow. The same way you’d have trouble following the thread of a conversation when 5 people were speaking their opinions about it directly to you at the exact same time.
In the midst of all these threads there is this incessant arguing about when its the right time and place to talk about something. Not now, yes now, maybe later, but this, but that. All about whether they should continue this conversation one of them started. I think 50 pages could be eliminated from this book if all the times they were deciding whether or not to talk about something were removed. And some of them never came up again.
Third: The Romance
The romance in the beginning of the book was great. There was incredible sexual tension. You could feel them falling in love. But all that evaporated by about page 250. The tension was gone, there was no steam. A lot of their relationship surrounded issues of trust. They both seem to readily agree that they trust each other, but then they are constantly going around each other and taking control of a situation, usually one of those situation that they want to wait to talk about. It’s not so much a lack of trust as it is both wanting to be in control, but it comes off as not entirely trusting at the same time.
There was also this rather unbelievable and incredible love scene that takes place after Judith is pelted with rocks and she’s knocked unconscious. Her face is bruised and bleeding, her temple swollen, her back is black and blue…and that night Iain roughly makes love to her. She wanted to but it was quite a stretch that she’s want to or that she’d encourage him to take her roughly. Then this injury is pretty much brushed by and never mentioned again.
The end was kind of this frantic wrap up of all these subplots, wound up in one chaotic scene where the initial concern was Judith’s English heritage, then her father, then the feminist plot, then the trust issues, and back to resolving their feelings about the English, which was never a true problem to begin with.
I suppose some might love this kind of book. If you’re big on action and lots of moving parts, you’ll probably love this. If you want more romance, it’s maybe not the book for you.