Mills & Boon, £4.99, ISBN 978-0-263-91705-5
Historical Romance, 2016
Bram, Laird Colquhoun, arranged for his sister to marry the father of our heroine Lioslath of Clan Fergusson before this story opens. His sister, in the grand tradition of romance heroines ever, fled the coop, causing her father to pursue that lass. That man died along the way, and Bram didn’t tell her that the man was killed by his sister’s lover, now husband. The intended marriage was for political convenience, and a marriage to cement the alliance of the two clans still needs to happen, so now Bram may as well marry Lioslath to get it over and done with. She refuses, so he lays siege on her castle, basically hoping to starve her out into submission. That is, before he sneaks into her bedroom and realizes that she’s really hot and shaggable, so his best tactic may be to worm his way into her heart via his worm into her… okay, you know what I mean, I’m sure.
As far as these romances go, The Highland Laird’s Bride isn’t going to break any new ground. It’s another standard Heroine and the Hero in a Castle romance, and if you have read any Highland arranged marriage stories before, the characters here will often seem like going through the motions to tick off all the tropes in the checklist. Of course, this need not necessarily be a bad thing if the whole thing is done well enough to be entertaining, but the author’s contrived machinations end up sabotaging her own story.
Lioslath, naturally, is a position of severe weakness. Her step-siblings are kids, her men are small in number, and she literally faints into Bram’s arms because she has so little to eat. Frankly, she has no choice but to put out to Bram, whether she wants to or not, and the bulk of this story sees her trying vocally to put up a fight when she can’t. Hence, the story is just the heroine prolonging the inevitable by trying very hard to resist the hero, and it’s a dire one because it’s clear from early on that she is no match for the hero at all. His looks make her weak in the knees, so she has no hope of telling him no when he decides to press his amorous attentions. Her power is nonexistent so her efforts at rebellion are laughable. She has no help from anyone, so our heroine is basically just spinning in the wind while insisting that she will show him, just you wait. Yes, honey, I’m waiting, and rolling up my eyes every other page here.
Our heroine’s powerlessness and constant falling flat on her face only make the hero’s high-handed ways even more severe than they would otherwise be. Oh, you can argue that he is just being a man of his time, and I won’t disagree, but the result is still the same: the hero has all the power, so when he’s taking the heroine for granted to a severe degree, and when he’s acting like it’s her place to lie on her back and put out to him, the whole thing gets… well, boring. Men like Bram need someone who can give back as good to make them interesting. A heroine who may screech all she wants but ends up bending over anyway makes Bram look a little too much like a steamroller crushing the ants on his path.
Worse, his thoughtlessness results in conflicts that hurt the heroine. Here’s the thing: he knows he would hurt the heroine, but he would go ahead and do it anyway. Why? Because he doesn’t want to feel nice emotions for the heroine. Bram is such a “I must hurt her because I’m a big weenie king who doesn’t want to be hurt” douchebag at times, and his antics are made worse by the fact that, while he wants to isolate his emotions from her, he wants her to feel things for him.
And since Lioslath can never put up a good fight, our hero treats her like a ping-pong ball, sending her flying from one side to the other with her powerless to do anything but to react.
I don’t specifically object to the hero’s behavior, mind you, as much as I object to the author pairing him with a weak heroine like Lioslath. The end result is The Highland Laird’s Bride being more like the doormat of the laird in question, and such a story is never enjoyable to read.