Highlander Unchained
by Monica McCarty, historical (2007)
Ballantine, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-345-49438-2

Highlander Unchained is a pretty simple story. While on an unwise getaway to elope with some forgettable nobody in order to avoid being forced into a political marriage, our heroine Flora MacLeod falls into the clutches of our hero Lachlan Maclean. She thinks that he merely wants her for ransom, but his reasons to detain her go deeper than that. Of course, she will learn of these reasons and more when it's too late for her to do anything because she's in love with that git.

This story, unlike the previous two books by the author, is nearly entirely driven by internal conflicts as our heroine does her best to whip the dumb lout hero into shape, aided by his family and clan members who are predictably the happy matchmaking "let us tell you why he's not so bad even when he behaves like a lout - really!" types. This is a predictable story, but unfortunately, what really spoils it for me is that it is also a badly miscalculated story.

The problem begins early on when Flora announces that she'd never marry anyone but the man she loves because of the unhappy history of her mother and grandaunt when it comes to politically arranged marriages. I can overlook the fact that it is rather unrealistic for a woman of Flora's time (early 17th century) to actually avoid a marriage of this nature, but I find it odd that she can come to the conclusion that the best marriage is one to the man you love. Because if you read the prologue, you will, I'm sure, agree with me that the correct message of the day is that you have to marry the man who loves you. Flora's grandaunt was in love with the heartless brute who ordered her death, and she was stupid enough to die of grief when her brother rightfully killed that vile bastard. Therefore, shouldn't the message be that you should marry a man who adores you, or at the very least, returns your affection?

This comes into play because Lachlan is a problematic hero. No, it's not that he is deliberately vile or cruel. It's that this man is awesomely stupid. Seriously, he is incapable of learning. Coupled to a recalcitrance comparable to that of the father of all donkeys and I get a very problematic hero. Everything he does in this story is designed to create all kinds of conflicts and heartaches for the heroine, right down to the last few chapters when our hero, despite knowing how the heroine feels about being manipulated into a marriage, goes ahead and does just that, only to get furious when she fails to "understand" why he has to do what he has to do. He could have talked to her, but no, of course he can't. He's awesomely stupid that way, a walking plot contrivance for non-stop internal conflicts because he's just so dumb like that.

So why on earth would our heroine want to marry such a creature? It's not as if he's dumb and malleable, because if that is the case I can certainly see why a woman may want him for a husband. Lachlan is dumb and stubborn. Dealing with him will be like courting a heart attack. So why does she even want that guy? Because she loves him. Let me check that page where she has this grand epiphany - ah yes, she loves him because nobody else can stand up to her like he can. Or something like that.

The love thing isn't credible because the author relies too much on the contrived hate-sex thing to keep the story going. It's pretty familiar and tedious how every time she rails at him, he'll paw her and then she'll be complete putty in his hands because she's so weak-willed that she can't even remember why she's mad at him when he's giving her the obscene finger. After one too many scene of this nature, I lose all sympathy for the heroine because she comes off like this hopelessly weak-willed twit. Therefore, the relationship between those two is a non-stop sequence of arguments that culminate in one of those "Ooh! Bitch! I'll shag you!" moments before everything gets rinsed and repeated all over again.

On the bright side, the heroine is pretty smart and self-aware when she's not being fingered into being a putty-brained nitwit by the hero. Some would argue that she's too modern for a woman of her time, but for me, I'll take her over the stubborn, hypocritical, and awesomely braindead hero any time. But that is one bright side that fails to mean anything when I also have to deal with the very problematic hero and the most unconvincing sequence of passionate anger-driven heavy petting or boinking passed off as "true love" in this story.

All in all, the story could have been so much better if the hero dies by page 100 after being run over by a bunch of angry Scottish sheep.

Rating: 61

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