Enter the début romance novel of Amanda Forester, The Highlander’s Sword. And yes, there was immature giggling from this reader when I thought long and hard (harhar) about that title.
Lady Aila Graham’s dreams of a quiet life are shattered when her hand and fortune are pledged in marriage to Padyn MacClaren in exchange for the veteran knight’s promise to protect her clan from a vicious threat. // Hardened by a life of violence and betrayal Padyn believes a strong sword arm is all he needs to keep his new bride safe. But a devastating misunderstanding on their wedding night sets off a chain of violent events. Aila and Padyn must thrown caution to the winds if they are to forge the power bond they’ll need to save the clan.
Although I stumbled upon a few points that had me rolling my eyes, generally this book’s an enjoyable read. I mean, I read it in three-four hours. And giggled quite a few times. That’s saying something. Teensy problem areas here and there, Forester’s book hints at good things in her future.
It was a fast-paced read, what with vivid language and storytelling that’s confident inside its character’s heads. Although they begin as stereotypes, Lady Aila and Sir MacLaren were well-written characters that they manage to peel off this label quickly enough. Aila’s a woman who’d prepared for a life of nunnery–she’s shown to be efficient, and although in danger of appearing docile, she does her share of day-saving as the book progressed. MacLaren is a war-weary warrior who’s suffered a betrayal that would reverberate throughout the book. It’s his skittishness to trust that tends to be the focus of these two’s romance.
Ah, the romance. See, it wasn’t off to a good start. I took note, at page 120, that Aila and MacLaren seemed to go through the plot around each other, and not directly. That is, by page 120, these two had only seen each other twice, one of them at their hasty marriage. Because people keep missing appointments and getting waylaid and getting kidnapped–although eventually we find out that all this sets up the rest of the book, I couldn’t help feel, while reading it, that it was just so cluttered. I wanted to get into the romance, stat. The blurb says, “…a devastating misunderstanding on their wedding night sets of a chain of violent events.” Hell yeah, it did.
A confession: as with Highlanders, I have a soft spot for the Big Misundertanding trope. But the Big Mis has to apply to feelings and emotions. That is, “Och, I love her, but I’m afraid to tell her because I killed her puppy accidentally.” That sort of thing. (Think Judith McNaught at her peak.) Not when it concerns events like, say, a kidnapping: “She’s an evil woman because she looks like ran away with the enemy.” When one of MacLaren’s men suggests that he just ask Aila what had happened, our great hero had nothing to reply but Humph.
But yes, he’s a wounded man. I understand why he has to dole out his trust in tidbits. I get MacLaren, even though the distrust got annoying–but I was annoyed in behalf of Aila. See, my problem was with Aila. She could’ve reacted better to his attitude, and not just with her too-usual, “Oh, my feelings were hurt, but he’ll come around.” She tries, feebly, to make him trust her by telling him he should trust her, and when MacLaren naturally doubts this, there’s a page or two of Aila going, “Oh well.” I was ready to hit MacLaren. Especially when Aila reveals an innocuous detail about herself:
I thought ye might be different. But nay, you’re like every deceitful female, rotten to the core.
What now. Sigh. And then they make out. Or try to. Katy Perry’s Hot and Cold song has lodged itself in my brain at this point.
* * *
But that’s the extent of my complaints. I generally enjoyed the book, especially considering that Aila and MacLaren worked on their romance from then on. There are several touching moments in the story, though–but distressingly, a lot of them concern the secondary characters. And I very much like the secondary characters. They serve as foils for our couple’s personalities, and also bring a comparison-contrast to their relationship. I did like what little I had of Aila and MacLaren. But I just wanted more.
Let’s see. If the book had devoted as much time and passion to this relationship as it did to the clan wars that plague the characters, this would’ve been awesomesauce. I loved that part, the clan wars, the stealth. But I didn’t want the romance to suffer–and it did. I just wanted more from the characters. Because they were good characters. If we’re getting meta here, this could be a symbol for how their relationship actually does pale in comparison to larger things. Like fealty. And pride. And honor. But this is a love story, and it had to be a love story where love didn’t pale–at all.
I’d read more of Forester. I stayed with this book, I wanted to find out more, I wanted more. There’s always a lot at stake. Her characters are finely wrought, even though I don’t agree with every little thing they do, every decision that pops up. The flaws I found in this book are forgiveable because there’s just so much promise in how vivid she crafts her characters. Another trope, perhaps? To take advantage of the glimmer of humor (because this book had some very ridiculously funny scenes)? It’s up to you, Ma’am. Still, thank you for the Highlanders. And Chaumont. Man, those Frenchmen.