Review – The Chieftain by Margaret Mallory

I really dug Margaret Mallory’s last release, The Warrior, so I jumped at the chance to read The Chieftain, the final book in the Return of the Highlanders series.

Cover image, The Chieftain by Margaret Mallory

The blurb, courtesy of the publisher:

Connor, chieftain of the MacDonalds of Sleat, holds the fate of his people in his hands. Rival clans are plotting to take over his lands, and duty determines whom he will fight, trust . . . even marry. Seeking guidance, Connor turns to Ilysa, a young lass with the gift of foresight, who reveals an approaching danger — and a passion that burns only for him. But the warrior must make a powerful marriage alliance, and Ilysa’s bloodline is far too humble.

With her powers to heal and see evil where others cannot, beautiful Ilysa dresses plainly, speaks softly, and loves her chieftain from afar. Yet when Connor finally stokes the embers of desire that have so long burned within her, Ilysa feels bliss unlike any she’s ever known. Now as he is forced to place duty before happiness, Ilysa senses Connor is in grave peril. Can she find a way to prove she is the woman he needs by his side?

So, here’s the thing. I’m not usually into stories that skeeter anywhere near the wallflower-who-gets-a-makeover-and-then-everyone-discovers-that-she-was-totally-hot-all-along trope. Those stories always seem to reinforce classic stereotypes (you must be pretty to get an HEA) while smugly pretending to reinforce the idea that there’s beauty in everyone. I mean, come on:

Also, Freddie Prinze, Jr. is in two of my top-5 Most Terrible Movies I Have Ever Seen. (Anyone else remember Head Over Heels?)

There are hints of that makeover trope at work in The Chieftain, but the overall story was compelling enough to make me overlook that detail.  It pretty much comes down to Ilysa.  She’s a strong, hardworking, capable, loyal character who trusts her own judgment and isn’t afraid to go up against Connor when he’s being pigheaded (which, let’s face it, is almost all the time).  She saves the day, several times over, and eventually (perhaps a little too eventually) Connor learns to value her as much as she rightly values herself.

I loved pretty much everything about Ilysa, but Connor was a little more difficult to like, mostly because Ilysa was so obviously awesome, and it seemed to take him FOR-EV-ER to notice.  Also, Connor suffered a bit — as far as I was concerned — in comparison to the moody, broody Lachlan and his deeply conflicted self.  I have my fingers crossed that he’ll get to star in an upcoming book.

That said, this book is a delight to read because of its plot and pacing.  The story is chock full of plot development, but the plot is perfectly balanced with enough character development to keep a reader like me happy, and it’s all perfectly paced.  The result is a fun, quick read that is utterly entertaining.  I highly recommend this book, Freddie Prinze, Jr. notwithstanding.

The Chieftain was released on February 26, 2013 as a mass-market and e-book by Forever.  If you’re interested in learning more about the book, click on the cover image above to visit the book’s page on Goodreads.  To learn more about Margaret Mallory, visit her website.

*FTC Disclosure – I received an e-galley of this book from Forever via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.*

Review and Giveaway – The Warrior by Margaret Mallory

Cover image, The Warrior by Margaret Mallory

What’s better than a shirtless Highlander wielding a giant sword?  Not a whole lot, though cookies do come close.  I was a little worried about accepting this book for review.  I usually try to avoid romances that feature warrior-type hero characters.  All that swaggering testosterone is lost on me.  But the first two books in this series were so well regarded that I opted not to judge the book by its cover and marketing blurb.  I’m glad I made that decision and read this book, because it’s a lot of fun.

Speaking of the blurb (from Goodreads):

Four fearless warriors return to the Highlands to claim their lands and legacies. But all their trials on the battlefield can’t prepare them for their greatest challenge yet: winning the hearts of four willful Scottish beauties.

Star-Crossed

From the Isle of Skye to the battlefields of France, Duncan MacDonald has never escaped the memory of the true love he left behind. Deemed unworthy of a chieftain’s daughter, Duncan abandoned the lovely Moira to prove his worth in battle. Now, when called upon to rescue her from a rival clan, one thing is certain: Moira’s pull on his heart is stronger than ever.

Bartered away in marriage to a violent man, Moira will do anything to ensure she and her son survive. When a rugged warrior arrives to save her, the desperate beauty thinks her prayers have been answered—until she realizes it’s Duncan. The man who once broke her heart is now her only hope. Moira vows never again to give herself—or reveal her secrets—to the fierce warrior, but as they race across the sea, danger and desire draw them ever closer.

From page one, I was able to connect to Duncan’s character (but I had a difficult time connecting with Moira) and felt invested in his story.  Because I felt emotionally vested in the story, it was easy for me to feel immersed in the world – sixteenth century Scotland – and to get caught up in all the adventure of the very active plot.  This story gives Duncan many opportunities to strap on his warrior blade and go out to do manly things, and that’s fun, but Duncan’s a classic warrior-poet with a powerful soft side.  Here’s a man who will write a song for you, pick wildflowers and weave them into a wreath for you, massage your feet, spoon with you without complaint, etc.  So, yeah, Duncan’s got a lot of love to give, and I’m enough of a sap that I loved reading about him giving all that love to Moira.

I got a little bit annoyed at some of the repetitious fights between Moira and Duncan.

Moira: “You treat me like a child!”
Duncan: “I just want to love you and take care of you!”
Moira: “I can take care of myself!”
Duncan: “Really?  You fell into a ravine!”
“Moira: “So?! I can still do it, and you’re stifling me!”
Duncan: “But I love you!” (not actual quotes from the book, by the way)

There were pages and pages of that, and it might be a realistic depiction of the fights many couples have, but that doesn’t mean it was pleasant for me to read.  Other readers might find the spats entertaining–I happen to be easily annoyed by bickering in novels–especially because these fights show Moira to be a strong heroine who is not about to sit around waiting to be saved.  At any rate, I was relieved that the story picked back up fairly quickly, and Moira grew up a little bit, and Duncan realized that Moira was more important than his masculine pride, and I went back to being a seriously happy reader with an emotionally fulfilling tale.

Aside from the lovers’ spats, the pacing of this book is very good.  I don’t usually enjoy when villain scenes are intercut into the main heroic action of a book, but I liked it here, probably because those scenes were very short and took the place of the lengthy exposition scenes that would have been required in their stead.  It helped that the villains in this piece are relatives of the major characters and shared a connection with those characters beyond the “meanwhile in the demon lair, evil is brewing…” interruptions.  I was a little bit thrown by the Scots Gaelic references (actually, more accurate to say I was thrown by the interrupting English translations), but I appreciated how they added to the highland ambiance of the piece.

Although it took me a while to develop a connection with Moira, once I did, I really liked her.  Moira is the daughter of a chieftain, and she’s very spoiled, confident, and carefree in the beginning.  After her marriage, she has time to repent her youth a bit and to wish that she had been taught some basic survival skills.  Throughout the second half of the book, Moira learns a lot and is able to support her argument that she is not a helpless waif.

Bottom line: lovers of highland romances should go nutty for this one, as should anyone who desires an emotional love story featuring a fantastic hero and a flawed but ultimately redeemed (and very strong) heroine.  Although this book is the third book in a series, it works very well as a stand-alone novel (and I would know: I haven’t read the first two books of this series).  Of course, you may not even need a reason to read this story beyond the shirtless, kilted Highlander shown on the cover (I don’t judge).

Giveaway!

That’s right!  The publisher (Forever) has generously agreed to host this giveaway and will send one print copy of The Warrior to two lucky commenters, chosen at random (thank you, random.org).  There are, of course, some rules:

  1. This giveaway is limited to US residents only (sorry!).
  2. You must be 13 years of age or older to enter.
  3. You must comment on this post in order to qualify.  Don’t worry, I’ll give you a topic.
  4. You must be willing to provide your mailing address in order to receive your copy of the book.
  5. The giveaway will run through 11:59 PM pacific time on Monday, November 12.  I will announce the winners on Tuesday, November 13.

Please leave a comment about your favorite kinds of characters (or your favorite specific characters), regardless of what genre you normally read.  So much of one’s enjoyment from a book derives from the connection one is able to make with a book’s characters.  As always, please feel free to ignore my arbitrarily chosen topic in favor of one that is more interesting to you. :)

The Warrior was released on October 30, 2012 as a mass market paperback and eBook from Forever/Grand Central Publishing.  If you are interested in the book, please visit its page on Goodreads here.  Margaret Mallory is on Twitter (@MargaretMallory), so feel free to follow if you’re into that whole Twitter thing.

* FTC Disclaimer – I received an e-galley of this book from Forever/Grand Central Publishing through Net Galley in exchange for an honest review. *