Avon, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-06-245181-1
Historical Romance, 2017
While The Laird Takes a Bride is Lisa Berne’s second published effort with Avon, it feels far more like a first book than the previous book. It has an idiot plot and two characters that devolve into idiocy as the story progresses. Really, idiots, idiots everywhere.
This is a shame, though, because I am struck by one thing here that the author does exceptionally well. Normally, blending the darker elements of life as a woman in 19th century Scotland (abuse, lack of social standing, etc) with contemporary humor will be a recipe for disaster. Here, however, the author pulls that off seamlessly. This is not strictly a guffaw-a-minute romance, as there are some very real and dark undertones beneath the story. But even then, the author eventually sabotages this singular aspect of her story by having her characters go down the idiot path.
Alasdair Penhollow is the laird of Clan… wait, I don’t remember his clan name being stated outright. I did some research prior to writing this review, and I found that there are clans in Scotland named Abercromby, Pringle, and Tweedle, so Penhollow isn’t quite a stretch after all. It doesn’t matter anyway. Being a laird, just like being a duke in wallpaper historical romances, is merely a status symbol. Having a clan in this story also gives the author an excuse to include a creepy girl that whispers opaque nonsense, mentions of prophecy, and other stereotypical Scottish stuff that all lead to nowhere.
Anyway, our hero and his uncle are content to hold orgies, do stupid drunken stunts and, I presume, spend a lot of time being naked in one another’s company, but all that debauchery must come to an end as, now that Alasdair is an unmarried thirty-five year old manchild, an ancient clan decree insists that he invites eligible ladies from other clans to come to his castle for an audition to ride on his saddle, The Bachelor-style. If he refuses, he’d be put to death by his clan. Rather than daring them to lop off his head, he complies. Anything to get the story going, after all.
In another clan, Fiona Douglass is the eldest daughter who is also the unappreciated Cinderella and Mary Poppins all in one, caring for all and leading the staff without a single nod of appreciation from his bad-tempered father. Her mother is a submissive type who is cowed by her father, and Fiona wishes to escape her clan so that she can do… something… elsewhere, without her father’s unpredictable and often frightening temper, expectations imposed on her that only make her miserable, and more. Worse, the man she has a huge crush married to her sister, and they are now expecting. The poor dear already has her wedding night planned out with that man. When she is summoned to be a contestant in Alasdair’s bride audition tournament, she obeys. Oddly enough, she plots to go home when all she’s wanted up to that point is to escape her home.
Here’s the thing about this story: it’s a Frankenstein monster-like mess. At first, this one has such humor that I am charmed into overlooking the very twenty-first century style of talking, but eventually, I begin to roll my eyes when the author repeats the same thing that she did in the previous book: portray every female character that are Fiona’s competition for Alasdair’s much-used wiener in the most one-dimensional unflattering manner. And then, the author drops the whole The Bachelor aspect of the story abruptly by literally throwing the other girls out – one of the poor thing in a coffin, mind you – using some plot device that then goes away without creating any further significant ripple in the story. What follows is Alasdair having to marry Fiona when he was previously slobbering over the big breasts of a now-discarded other girl.
And then, it’s the two of them acting like utter twats for the rest of the story. When she’s not sighing over her sister’s husband, Fiona is so determined to stick to the letter of the old clan treatise even if it makes her miserable and forces her to be stuck in a life that she has never wanted, while Alasdair is frankly a boorish, whiny, immature child-jackass for so often that I end up wishing that someone would seal off these two in Castle Twatwaffle so that they will be forced to make the other person miserable forever after.
Furthermore, Fiona as a character is on the implausible side. She is very well-educated to an unrealistic degree. In addition to knowing everything and anything to know about housekeeping and managing a big holding, she is also well-versed in, among other things, French, Shakespearean plays (she can recite lines from memory), horse riding, shooting, and a few more things that I probably missed while shaking my head in disbelief. How does she get to be so multi-talented when, apparently, she was also allowed to run wild as a child? Where did she find the time to master all these things? Maybe she doesn’t need to sleep.
Because of the way plot devices and twists are introduced and then dropped in this story, I can only wonder whether this book had undergone several revisions that didn’t quite work, only to be turned in to the editor anyway because the deadline was up. Or perhaps the editor insisted on big changes that were never fully implemented well because the author had no heart in incorporating them in the first place. Whatever the reason is, The Laird Takes a Bride never feels like a coherent, cohesive story – things just happen because the author feels like making them happen. Put in two unlikable boors as the main characters and I have a book in which I like the author’s narrative voice and humor, but god, how I dislike the characters and the story.