Title: The Chief (Highland Guard Series, #1)
Author: Monica McCarty
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Publication Date: March 23, 2010
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
[Note: I am re-posting this review from Goodreads. I hadn't planned on blogging this review but when I went to say a few words about it on GR, well it turned into a full fledged review so I figured I would share it here as well!]
This book...it made me cry. It made me grin like a fool. And it made me grip the covers in suspense. It rocked my world in ways I didn't think a highlander romance could. The writing is well done, the time is well researched and explained, and the plot is focused and has plenty of action.
Having said that, some may say, "Big surprise. Kat loves highlanders. She's biased." But this book was different. For me at least. Yes, I have a thing for highlanders. I love books about this time and I blame Karen Marie Moning for my obsession since her Highlander series is what seemed to start it all. My obsession that is. However, not all Highlander romances are for me. Some I like (Moning's, Banks', just to name two) but others, well others I end up DNFing. But this book?! No way. It had me up late, anxious to get to the end but also dreading it at the same time.
Why did I love this book as much as I did? Simple. The author clearly did research for this book (see, the Author's Note in the book) and weaved fiction and non fiction together to make a beautifu story that made me feel like I was right there, on the sidelines watching as it all went down. Her descriptions of the castles, the places, the Islands: they were clear but not overwhelming. I could see them all in my mind's eye. And I could also "see" the characters.
And speaking of the characters, I have to say, Christina broke my heart. She was such a romantic, waiting and wishing for her Lancelot to come and save her, and she so wanted to believe it was Tor. So did I! Over and over again she tried to break through. She tried to help. All to, what seemed to be, no avail. And that I think is part of the greatness in this book. We see and hear from Tor's POV at times, and we see his struggle, trying to put his clan first, before anything, even himself. And we, the reader, get glimpses of his walls beginning to crack, but never fully topple. When Christina lost hope, so did I. I sobbed, openly and avidly, though Christina seemed to have it together more than me. She seemed to become, after her and Tor's last fight, resigned to her fate. I would have liked to see her confront Tor before she left-to be a bit stronger perhaps. But I also understood why she didn't. Some might say she was stupid to do what she did and cause what some would call "trouble" for Tor, but I didn't see it that way at all. This was a young girl of about 21 who grew up with an awful, abusive father who put her through hell. All Christina wanted was someone to save her. She thought that man was Tor. And given the mixed messages he was sending, I understand her confusion about whether he did, or did not, care for her. So when the reality of her situation finally sank in, when his words about just why he married her and how her romantic dreams were basically a joke and would never be fulfilled, I think in her position I'd have done the same thing. The shame and humiliation of all she'd done and endured to find someone to save her -to love her-, it just went up in smoke.
So while I was crying at this point, I was also angry. I was angry at Tor for being an idiot. I was angry at him for continuing to confide and be close with Lady Jane, his former leman, who I really wanted to stab with a sharp object. I was pissed off that he sent his brother away (though I understood why he did it), and I really wanted him to bring his sons back to the keep so Christina could raise them, not his uncle. (The latter didn't seem to happen but I believe this was a normal occurrence at the time, so I'm not surprised by it.) But mostly I was mad that Tor didn't see the damage he'd inflicted on Christina with his words. Sometimes words are worse than fists. And he knew about Christina's father and how she was treated. He didn't have to treat her with kid gloves, but he could have had a care. But instead he mouthed off, stormed off, left Christina -AGAIN!- and then 2 days later expected everything to be fine. He'd talk to her and yeah, things would be A-OK.
Um, no Tor. Really. Get a clue.
And I get it. He's a warrior, a chief, a lord, and all that. He shouldn't have to answer to a woman. (stupid man!) But did he not remember the vow he made to Christina before their marriage? The condition she made? HELLO?! He cut her down with her words, after everything she did, after all she tried to do to bring warmth back to the castle, and expected her to be waiting for him after he told her, basically, he couldn't, wouldn't and didn't love her?! Again: STUPID MAN! (Aside: It seems men haven't made that many strides since the time of the highland warriors. They're still doing idiotic crap like this! Anyways, back to my rant.)
So thus begins the final conflict of the book, Tor's epiphany, and poor Christina suffering for Tor's stupidity and refusal to acknowledge his feelings and instead be an asshat. Thankfully her suffering was only mild compared to what the men who captured her had initially intended to do to her, and she found more of her backbone during this time too, refusing to give the interrogators their answers, suffering for it, and still finding her own way out of there.
And also, Tor and his secret army appeared to help. Okay, maybe they more than helped, but I'm still a bit annoyed at Tor. I mean, I liked him. A lot. And the sexy times, well...they were beyond hot. But seriously, he needs to be slapped!
This is the most I've written on a review in a long time. But I finished this yesterday and I still can't stop thinking about it. Maybe because I remember being younger and thinking, like Christina, that a Knight would ride up on his steed, take me away, and we'd live happily ever after. (Or in his Mustang, or on his Harley, or in his pick-up truck...you get the idea.) So when her dreams shattered it was like a personal blow to me, remembering when I too grew up and stopped believing in fairy tales, knights in shining armor and damsels in distress. That's how strong this writing is, in my opinion anyways. And because of this, I've bought the second and third books in this series and can't wait to read more about this time and these warriors. Monica McCarty will definitely be on my list of top authors from now on.
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