My review contains spoilers and they're mostly my thoughts...
Her Savage Scot, book 1 of The Highland Warrior Chronicles, had been in my TBR for a while now. Recently, when I felt the urge to check out some medieval Scottish-Highlander romance, I thought why not?. This was my first novel by Christina Phillips and it definitely won’t be my last because I enjoyed the book more than I thought I would.
Her Savage Scot is set during the time of Kenneth MacAlpin, arguably the first king of the Scots, around 843. He makes his appearance here too, but not really as someone I cared much about. You’ll find out the reasons in my review. He was also the king of now extinct Pictland. The author’s website has a short intro about the Picts and Pictland which I found fascinating.
Princess Aila, the eldest daughter of the current King of one Pictish segment called Ce, is introduced almost at the beginning of the story. A widow since 17, Aila’s life had not been the same when her young husband Onuist died saving her life from the marauding Vikings. At least that’s how the story is told all around Ce, where Onuist is revered as a hero. Just as her maternal grandmother and maternal cousin Elise, Aila has the same power of seeing visions and sensitive towards a coming incident through their Goddess Bride’s blessings. However, on that fateful day, Bride didn’t come to her rescue or Onuist’s for that matter. Since then, Aila had decided to abandon Bride and embrace the ‘new’ religion AKA Christianity. She’s also become a recluse, so much so that people outside of her closest kin aren’t allowed to see her. She doesn’t go out much unless the very close circuit of the castle and she has no interest in being introduced to the strangers who come to visit Ce. Hence no one sees her in attendance of any feast or celebration. She’s become some sort of a myth. It’s been 9yrs. but she’s not going to forgive Bride for her betrayal.
Recently though, Bride has been coming to Aila once again, showing her pictures of bloodied war, laughing children and bringing in a foreboding that she has been hating to acknowledge. She hates that Bride never gives her a complete picture, leaving her utterly miserable when something bad happens and she can’t do anything to prevent it. Even with her grandmother’s patient counseling, Aila wasn’t prepared for what was to come next, incidents that would alter the course of her life once again. This time the changes will be permanent.
Connor MacKenzie is the second son of a Laird, hence not the heir and no chance of inheriting his father’s legacy. Indeed, it was all going to his eldest half-brother Fergus. Connor’s mother was the second wife, though she had been loved by both her husband and her sons. Even Fergus, generally an a$$hole to women, reveres Connor’s mother. He had no memory of his own since her Royal mother passed on when Fergus was pretty young.
Though they are bothers, Connor and Fergus are worlds apart in their looks and temperament. Fergus has no respect or love for women, reason unknown, and had a penchant for slave girls. He’d rape them regularly to get what he wanted as his ‘right’ as their lord or a noble in general. He had bastards running all around Dal Riada, and had no interest of getting married soon. Fergus is tall, blonde and blue-eyed with the body of a warrior and the women mostly love him, except for the slaves. You can only imagine why. On the other hand, Connor, though tall and muscular, had dark hair and eyes. He’s in his late 20s, once married but sadly, lost his wife to childbirth; an incident that still haunts his dreams. Connor doesn’t wanna marry anytime soon either, mostly because he was scared of putting another woman through the same torture as Fearchara had to suffer before her death. Connor was at some war, fighting for his king when this happened and the guilt of not being with her at her last moments was enormous, at time suffocating. For now, Connor was happy with his mistress of some years, Maeve, in a very convenient and comfortable arrangement. On that regard, Connor believed in fidelity whereas Fergus didn’t. Though it distinctly felt like Maeve—whose own marriage wasn’t even remotely a happy one—was already in love with Connor, he had no interest of marrying her even if he hated her husband and was glad for her when the bastard recently died. This is something that didn’t sit well with me cause Maeve seemed like a nice lady. But new developments were on the way, and I was soon diverted there alongside Connor.
Connor was working for his king MacAlpin. One day, MacAlpin begins suggesting that he should be the king of the other segments of Pictland as well since his mother was a Pictish princess. The Pictish rule of Royal inheritance doesn’t follow the general rule of Patriarchy. Picts heirs are chosen through Matriarchy, and so, MacAlpin had every right to demand to be the King. But he knew it won’t be an easy task to convince the Picts who already saw him as an upstart. To subdue them, and clear out his path of any ‘thorn’, he had a plan too. As the first part of that plan, MacAlpin started working to further their relationships by marrying any Scots under his rule possessing Royal blood with Pictish princesses. However many he can manage would only make his stand stronger. On that note, MacAlpin asks Connor and some of his subordinates to visit Ce and take the message to the King. King’s eldest daughter, though widow, happen to still be around childbearing age. Someone will have to marry her and set his plan in motion ASAP. This time, Fergus is chosen due to his own Royal lineage. Connor wasn’t unhappy about it, though he pitied the Princess knowing what an a$$ his brother was. Hell, Fergus had been an a$$ to him too all of his life. But Connor had a job to do and he’d see that his King gets his wish fulfilled. Fergus will just have to do his job, no matter how it’s rumored that the Princess is so ugly that she’s become a recluse in embarrassment. Yep that’s how far the rumors went about Aila and her reclusiveness. *eyeroll*
Connor thought his job will be easy, until he met Aila accidentally and begins falling for her. Not his fault cause he had no idea about her identity and Aila wanted it to remain that way. She wanted to be as less encumbered by her title as possible. Like her own mother, the Queen, her grandmother and everybody else, Aila was also wary of the Scots visit, most especially because they refuse to state their mission to anyone but the King. At that time, the King, with his only son Talargan, were dealing with the Vikings at some faraway part of Ce. Aila suddenly understood that the visions she’d been having must have something to do with the arrival of the Scots. No matter how much she tried to dispel Bride’s message, she couldn’t push the bloody bodies out of her mind. Only her grandmother could make her feel calm because she also felt the same things and Aila could rely on her guidance.
Aila, of course, looked nothing like a hag as rumored. She had a head full of red-gold hair and green eyes. She looked just like grandmother when she was young. No wonder Connor fell for her, mainly when he found her to be rather distant...almost elusive. The attraction was instant. So far, Aila didn’t have any interest in any type liaisons, even when most noblewomen around her, married or widowed, loved sporting with different lovers. Even now many of them were vying for the attentions of the tall and burly Scots, succeeding in most cases. Her cousin, Elise, was also one of them. Beautiful and quite flirtatious, Elise never lacked for admirers. Knowing her horrible marriage to a man triple her age, Aila couldn’t blame her cousin. Still, seeing Connor with her didn’t sit well with Aila. She was already feeling jealousy rearing its ugly head, though she had no reason to feel that way. Thankfully though, Elise doesn’t take her flirtation that far since she knew Aila was attracted to Connor.
Despite all the warnings and misgivings, Aila decides to finally give into Connor’s invitation. She was long overdue for a bit of fun anyway and no other man has made her feel this insane with need as Connor’s presence and kisses have. Aila needed a release and Connor was more than willing to offer her just <i>that</i>. But Aila never has a chance of revealing her real identity to Connor. The reason why Connor couldn’t confide in Aila about their visit to Ce comes back to haunt him the next day. I knew it would cause both of them were keeping secrets from each-other. When the time comes and the King finally introduces Aila as the eldest Princess, it was Connor’s time to have an almost heartattack. Aila had already regretted it, yet there was always some excuse or the other before she could tell him who she was. And now Connor is left to contemplate about Aila’s fate with his a$$hole of a brother. The King of Ce agrees when this match when the lure is put in that MacAlpin and the Scots will help them keep the Vikings at bay. Aila was given a choice to refuse, but she was determined to do her ‘duty’ to her country as the Eldest Princess Devorgilla. If not her, then it’d be her younger sister Finella. The thought horrified Aila because Finella was only 11.
When they return to Dal Riada, Connor was looking for a way to break off this betrothal. Aila had refused, though I can’t say Connor’s way of asking her was the best. He wanted HER to break it off, so he won’t have to betray his King. :/ Aila was also sure Connor didn’t love her, so why would she not do her duty to Ce? After her refusal, Connor panics. Approaching both MacAlpin and Fergus doesn’t work so Aila is forced to marry while MacAlpin send Connor and his men to stave off some Viking attack somewhere in Dal Riada to clear his way to execute his next ‘plan of attack’. Quite literally. What happens next is a betrayal of such huge proportions that made Connor and the men who worked for him reel in horror when they return to find Dal Riada bloodied by the corpse of the nobles of Pictland. Some were held hostage to make sure Ce and other Pictish states do as told. You can only imagine Aila’s state of mind. MacAlpin denied Connor’s plea cause obviously all he cared about was how to claim what he deems is his. Fergus was just a bully, so he only threw it all on Connor’s face with every taunt imaginable. The reason behind Fergus’s childish behavior and strong dislike for Connor is revealed later, and I may have felt a bit of pity for him but that was that. He had no chance of redeeming himself.
Soon it became apparent to Connor that MacAlpin’s entire plan was to remove as many direct claims as possible so he can become the reigning King of the Pictland. Connor and any men working under him were left unawares because MacAlpin already suspected his affinity for Aila. Aila and her countrymen didn’t know either so her hatred for the Scots was understandable, because one of the nobles murdered was her father. It took quite sometimes for her to begin trusting Connor, believing in the fact that he had no hand in this.
Personally, at that point, I was thoroughly hooked! I was very interested to find out how this mess of monumental proportion was going to be resolved. There have been many ups and downs in Aila and Connor’s relationship but it all worked out in the end one way or the other. Not a short book by any means with almost 400 pages but I thoroughly enjoyed the story. I was sure Her Savage Scot will get more than 4+ stars from me because I loved the author’s writing style too. So why didn’t it make over 4 stars? Let me explain... IMO, one of the things the author overused here, was the trope of misunderstanding between Aila and Connor to create tension in their relationship; even sometimes to add intrigue to the plotline. Whether it was by evasion or plain dumb misinterpretation didn’t matter. I hate when this trope is misused that frequently. After a while, it gets old, as simple as that and you begin to question the H and h’s intelligence. There were times where I thought things could’ve been solved IF ONLY they talked to each-other.
BUT, trust me on this, the frustration was shot-lived. There were enough thrilling moments in the book to keep me distracted, and the author did a great job of tiding things up in the end which was to my absolute liking! If she didn’t resolve all that in a very neat package I’d be a really unhappy reader. 4 stars and recommended. You may not feel as vexed about the misunderstandings part as I had felt.
I’m now off to read book 2, Her Vengeful Scot, which is one of Connor’s men, Cameron’s and Elise, Aila’s cousin. I didn’t think Cam was going to get the next book but Ewan (another of Connor’s men) who had more mention in book 1 than Cam. But this guy absolutely hates the Picts so I’m really interested to see how he gets entangled with Elise. ;) There are some other characters I hope get their stories, which includes Maeve because I really think she deserves to find love and happiness. I thank the author for not using the seriously overused trope of eeeevail mistress in this story.