Title: To Conquer a Highlander
Author: Mary Wine
Page Count: 352 pages print length, 466 KB Kindle format
Publisher: Sourcebooks Casablance
Genre: historical romance
Copy for review was downloaded for free from Amazon on October 8, 2010
50 words or less: Shannon McBoyd's got a lot on her plate- first her father and brothers commit treason, then they try to marry her off for political favor, and then she gets kidnapped. At least it was a nice guy who kidnapped her.
When I finished this book, two thoughts immediately popped into my head. The first one was BOOYAH, GRANDMA, as I'd finished the second of twelve books that I'd challenged myself to read as a part of the Show Me The Free challenge. The second thought was...well, it was more like an expression. Think of when people are looking at an abstract painting, and they kind of squint, and turn their heads to the side, and say it's really interesting, and then kind of trail off at the end like they wanted to say more. That's how I felt at the end of To Conquer a Highlander.
I think I had the art viewing face on because while this wasn't a bad book by any stretch, there were a couple of weighty issues and themes that held back...something...from the overall experience and kept me from completely buying into the main characters and their relationship or really being happy about their happily-ever-after. It's a strange situation, because the elements that were problematic for me in this book have worked just fine for me in the past in other stories. It just goes to show that each book, story, and character is different and that the experience of reading each one is different as well, I guess.
Shannon McBoyd has terminally bad luck, and has pretty much from the day she was born. Her father is an abusive asshat, both physically and emotionally, and what little we see of her brothers demonstrates that they're headed down the same trail to asshattery themselves. She's no more than a pawn in their eyes; her father's big plan is to marry her to the guy attempting to usurp the Scottish throne to cement the McBoyd clan's position as court favorites and to hopefully sweep under the rug the role the McBoyd's had in the death of the previous king.
Papa McBoyd cocks all of that up, though, when he starts raiding on McLaren land, and earns the wrath of Torin McLaren. McLaren, upon learning that Shannon is supposed to be married to the ursurper, intercepts her on her way to be married and absconds with her back to his own lands, where she'll await her fate while that of her entire clan is decided for the crime of treason.
Against this grim background, then, is when the love between Shannon and Torin was supposed to have blossomed. Bearing in mind that when the McBoyds attacked the McLaren fort, the loved ones of many of the folks living under Torin were killed. Shannon is living there, amongst people who are, at best, indifferent to her, and waiting to find out whether a death sentence is being passed upon her for being a McBoyd- treasonous by association.
One of the things that stuck with me the most is how incredibly limited Shannon's choices were at all times. She could pretend to be the demure girl her father wanted as a daughter or be beaten; she could be married to a usurper or face her father's wrath; she could keep body and soul together while being held hostage by McLaren or be a basket case; she can be a perfectly nice, honorable person and be executed for treason anyway. The stress she felt must have been overwhelming, but nobody else seemed to pick up on that, least of all Torin, who admittedly seemed to do most of his thinking with his little head for most of the book.
This isn't to say that the sex between Shannon and Torin wasn't consensual, but instead it felt...odd...to me- Shannon's position was infinitely vulnerable to Torin, and all the possible outcomes of that relationship left Shannon completely dependent on Torin for her future survival. My absolute least favorite element of the story surrounded Shannon attempting to take the period equivalent of birth control; the household staff freaks out and is like, just let fate take its course! Never mind that the child, if there was one at that point, would have been illegitimate with a precarious position if/when Torin ever had any legitimate heirs. It wouldn't be their job to deal with any of that, they just figured that their lord was a good guy, so having his love child couldn't be that bad of a deal.
I'll spread the blame equally though- if you're worried about having a child out of wedlock and are not willing (or able/allowed in the case of this book) to use birth control, then STOP HAVING SEX OUT OF WEDLOCK. Why Shannon continued to have sex with Torin once her fears about getting pregnant were out in the open was a mystery to me. This is one arena where it took two to tango.
While everything does work out for a happily ever after, and Shannon's family issues are dealt with decisively, enough had happened at that point that I just wasn't convinced. While the ideas of going off to steal a bride or the element of forbidden romance aren't anathema to me or anything like that, I just felt like Shannon wasn't an equal in this relationship. Things happened to her and she dealt with them, but in a story about a marriage based on love, that doesn't really fly, you know?
Overall Grade: C-
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