My review contains spoilers and they're mostly my thoughts...
I just finished book 2 of Christina Phillips’s fabulous The Highland Warrior Chronicles, Her Vengeful Scot. Have to admit I’m loving this series a LOT. This book also had its share of drama and intrigue, much like book 1. The stories are well-written and, as far as I could tell, well-researched too.
The Highland Warrior Chronicles is set during the time of Kenneth MacAlpin, arguably the first king of the Scots, around 843. He makes his appearance in both books, though less in book 2 than book 1. He wasn’t really 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.
Book 1, Her Savage Scot, takes place a few months prior to book 2. Connor and his men travelled to the Kingdom of Ce, a segment of the Pictland, with a proposal for the King of Ce from his own King Kenneth MacAlpin. Recently, MacAlpin , the King of Dal Riada has had this notion that he should be the reigning king of Pictland seeing his mother was a Princess. The Royal Lineage, in the case of the Picts, comes via the mother and not the father, so MacAlpin was determined to grab what he deemed was his. The kingdom of Ce, Circinn and the others were being ravaged by the Vikings. MacAlpin asks that the eldest Princess of Ce be married to one of his warriors with Royal blood, in this case Connor’s elder half-brother, Fergus. In return, he’s willing to be allied with the Picts and help them fight the Vikings. Quite a lucrative offer no doubt. Connor was tasked to make sure the elusive Princess and the King, with other nobles be brought back to Dal Riada to discuss everything. If all agrees, the marriage will take place posthaste.
Connor, a second son, knew he had no Royal blood but he wasn’t all that bothered even though Fergus was an all around a$$hole. He pitied the Princess for he knew Fergus will be a horrible husband but it’s the King’s wish. And Connor make sure MacAlpin gets what he wished for. However, fate had other plans when , unknowing to both, Aila, the Princess in question and Connor MacKenzie falls for each-other on spot. Even though physical attraction was what brought them together, they developed feelings for one another very soon. When Aila is announced as the eldest Princess, the King of Ce agrees to MacAlpin’s offer despite his, and everyone else’s, misgivings to strengthen his forces against the Vikings. Connor is now fated to watch the woman he loves marry his brother; a nightmare he never wanted to witness. Aila, though wanted Connor to help break this betrothal, finally decides to do her duty to her country despite the fact that she was numb with the possibility of losing Connor.
The next chapters were filed with much drama; intrigue and climax of murder and betrayal but also of love and hope, when fate brings Connor and Aila together unexpectedly once more. Even though they marry with MacAlpin’s blessings, they still had a long way to go. Mistrust and misunderstandings put their relationship in jeopardy more than once but in the end, love wins over. I really enjoyed book 1 and eagerly dove into book 2, Her Vengeful Scot.
Book 2 begins right after book 1 so I recommend that you read the series in order. Some incidents such as the political intrigue occurring in book 1 plays a big role in shaping of the story here. I never thought Cameron MacNeil, one of Connor’s best warriors, would get book 2. He didn’t have as much mention in there as another guy named Ewan. Elise, on the other hand, was quite an active secondary character. Cameron AKA Cam’s hatred for the Picts were so palpable that he wouldn’t sleep with any Pictish woman when his fellow warriors were doing so left and right. I was very interested to know the reason behind it and to find out how he got entangled with Elise, the last person it seemed he wanted anything to do with.
Cam accompanied Connor to serve MacAlpin, but he had an ulterior motive. He had vengeance in mind; the revenge for the brutal death of his young sister, years ago, at the hand of a Pict who ravaged his home, his sister and killed his father. Cam was barely 16 but already away training and doing what warriors-in-training do. The guilt of not being there for little Isla when she needed him the most had been eating away at Cam every since. This time, he’d found a way to investigate the person in concern, Ferelei mac Urguist. Cam will avenge his sister or he’ll die trying, doesn’t matter what befell him afterwards.
Elise, maternal cousin to Aila and the youngest Princess of Circinn, was married off to an older man thrice her age when she was barely 15yrs. old. It was a MOC and she had no say to her autocratic mother who had only one thing in mind; the monetary gains thru the marriage. So yep, they literally sold their youngest daughter. I’m sure Elise’s older sisters suffered the same fate but they’re not really mentioned much in the story. In fact, Elise’s whole family living in Circinn is there only by mention. Elise don’t visit them in the story, and I certainly understand if she won’t!
Elise was in Ce trying to forget Ferelei’s imminent return by flirting with the warriors around them. She hated to be a ‘wife’ to that POS, though she’d ceased to be one literally because Ferelei was unable to perform in bed anymore. Thank God for small blessings! Elise likes to flirt with the warriors but she never takes her flirtation to bedroom. Even though she wasn’t being true to her a$$hole of a husband, Elise had a reason for not wanting male touch. The reason behind it was the husband himself; that guy was gross, trust me. But Cameron MacNeil was proving to be a different, and difficult, case. That man seems to have all the dislike for her, or her people in general for she’d never seen him smile even once. He’s always glowering whenever she looked at him. And every time, it seemed like his intense gaze is upon her. What in the world...? Elise can’t even imagine what’s on his mind, though she finds her own attraction to him rather disturbing but not disgusting by any means! And that may pose to be a problem, Elise was already aware of it.
Elise was blonde and blue-eyed, very beautiful and Cam all dark haired-eyed tall, muscular warrior hot stuff. :P I couldn’t blame either of them feeling the sizzling attraction. Cam already knew Ferelei was Elise’s husband, while she had no idea of what Cam had planned to do. Though, after they are unofficially introduced and have a chat or two with each-other, Cam begins to waver from his determination. He found that Elise was as vulnerable as any woman he knew of, which appealed greatly to his protective instincts. Cam soon knew that trying to hate her would be pointless, because he liked her more. He knew she was flirtatious but also found out that she had never followed through to any of the assignations planned with his fellow warriors. So what was it? Was she in love with Ferelei, as gross as the thought was? Was she being faithful to him? After knowing her, and finding out her attraction to him, Cam is rather baffled. He knew he was going to kill Ferelei, though he felt really bad for her.
Fate, again, plays its hand when Ferelei returns suddenly. Both Cam and Elise’s life is changed forever after that. She was aghast to see her husband and wished him to go away forever. Cam wished that that bastard was dead. Together, it seemed that fate had decided to grant them their wish. Both are soon relieved of Ferelei’s presence.
Elise is SO stunned by the news of her widowhood that she couldn’t wrap her head around it at first. She had resigned herself to suffer through Ferelei’s presence and being bound to him, it seemed like, forever! Now all she can do is cry the tears of freedom and heave a sigh of relief! She had been having some premonitions and vague visions from Bride but she didn’t know it concerned her own future. As I mentioned before, women of Elise and Aila’s family were gifted that way, though the gift may skip a generation or two. Their grandmother has the same thing as her own grandmother. That’s how it’s been for generations. Elise treasured her gift, even though hers wasn’t as potent as Aila’s. She also felt that Cam would prove to be a valuable asset to her. Elise had a younger half-brother, a long buried secret of her father’s that was forbidden to talk about. Droston was captured by MacAlpin but he wasn’t any important noble. Elise loved him and wanted to free him if he was alive. She needed help and felt that Bride was guiding her towards Cam who was capable in every way possible. But Cam didn’t believe in her pagan beliefs so Elise keeps her plan to herself for the time being.
Elise and Cam begin their affair soon afterwards, not knowing how far they can go. It wasn’t just another lusty affair either. For Elise, she wanted Cam like no other man while, for Cam, he felt something so deep for her already that he couldn’t put a name on it. A warrior can’t think of love and Cam has never been in love. His life was no fairytale to begin with. Even before Isla’s horrific death, Cam’s own legacy was marred by his father’s brutality towards his own mother. He was the product of rape himself, though his father forced his mother to marry later. Twisted irony was, Cam’s mother was also the spoils of a raid, much like Isla, but being only 11 she didn’t live through the ordeal of a baby that followed. Cam hated his life, his home and buried everything in blood and war and in occasional women. Elise, a Princess and such a beautiful one at that, was someone Cam could only look at in awe and reverence. He didn’t understand her attraction to him cause he deemed himself rather uncouth, definitely not someone up-to-the-par of a Princess.
What no one knew was that Cam had noble blood in him. We find he’s a Prince much later in the story cause his mother was a Pictish Princess, even if from a lesser known family. But Cam never acknowledged his maternal side of the family, vehemently disliked them for they abandoned his mother to the brutality of his father and washed their hands off of her. Cam had no social grace for he had no interest in socializing. He was straightforward in his words, something that attracted Elise equally as much as his imposing physique. She knew he would never flatter her to get her to bed. If he wanted her, he’d tell her just that. And Cam made it no secret just how much he wanted Elise.
Upon MacAlpin’s summons, Cam journeys towards Dal Riada and Elise tags along. Connor and Aila were already married and expecting their first child. MacAlpin wanted that child to be born in safety, but Connor made it sure that Aila gets to visit her own family when she’s ready to give birth. Now that this was settled, MacAlpin had other plans churning in his mind. Elise’s own plan to follow Cam was not only to be close to him, but to secure Droston’s freedom, though she was yet to confide in him. On the other hand, Cam was worried about his King’s plans seeing what happened to Aila’s family and those Pictish nobles. His premonition comes true when MacAlpin orders Elise to be married ASAP. He needed one more Princess under his belt (though not the way you think, thank God!). Fortunately, Cam’s own Royal lineage comes into play here. The one he’s hated to acknowledge saves Elise from being married off to some other warrior of MacAlpin’s choosing. Cam receives order to convince Elise and marry her ASAP.
It was the stuff made of Cam’s most forbidden dreams. He had dreamed of proposing to her, make her his own but was never sure if she’d be interested in him beyond an affair. What he didn’t even imagine that Elise was already halfway in love with him, so she surprises the hell outta him by accepting his proposal on spot with much enthusiasm. :D It seemed fate smiled upon them once more.
Cam and Elise’s marriage took place soon. From there, they journey towards Dunmar, even though Cam never wanted to set foot in that place again. Elise was already surprised to know that Cam was a Prince, now she was more than excited to see his home. I mentioned Isla a bit more than I wanted to because in Dunmar, is where one of the most beautiful and heart-wrenching scenes take place. And it was in Isla’s room. Elise already sensed a presence in the house, maybe more than one and she knew it was not Cam’s a$$hole of a father cause the presence wasn’t dark in anyway. One turned out to be his mother and it leads to a great, big discovery that helps Cam accept his heritage as a Pictish Prince. But the scene I’m taking about comes when Elise discovers Isla’s locked up and long abandoned room and something beckons her inside. She feels Isla’s calming presence all over, trapped because she couldn’t move on. :( Because she was aware that her brother was hurting for her. When Cam comes into the room too, Isla makes her presence known by becoming an iridescent aura of rainbow around him, her way of showering him with her love. That scene fairly took my breath away, and I begin tearing up with Elise. Cam later witnesses the aura as well, finally believing in Elise’s words when she said he must forgive himself to help her move on. So Cam’s whole trip to Dunmar wasn’t as bad as he’d initially thought it would be. Old wounds began healing. Alongside Elise, both incidents work as a balm to his soul. He has never been as happy as he was now. At long last, Dunmar begins feeling like home.
But even basking in such marital bliss, both Elise and Cam had their vulnerabilities. Cam’s was worse because he still couldn’t wrap his head around the fact that Elise has chosen him. And because MacAlpin played part in it, he was scared of losing her. Cam knew Elise would be disgusted by any notion that suggested he married her on order, and not because he was mad about her. The later was obviously the main reason, however the way Cam keep pushing off telling Elise the truth, I just knew another big misunderstanding was on the horizon. -_- Elise also never told Cam her true relationship with Droston, even though she told him that she wants him freed. She was under blood oath, but hello, when it’s ripping apart your happy marriage with the man you love, will you still continue to keep your so-called blood oath? That’s stupid! Cam was pretty sure Droston was her lover, and she preferred that guy over him (*SMH*) which is why she accompanied him from Ce. Lord help me! *sigh* I mentioned in my review of book 1 that the author overused the trope of misunderstanding there, which was the only thing that vexed me throughout. In here, she didn’t overuse it but it wasn’t any less vexing to know how wrong they were about each-other. >.<
So there it was, the crux of their unhappiness that sprouted its head later in the story. I had wished that they talked and avoided the heartache but that was not to be. BUT, once again, the author manages to neatly tie up all the loose ends and gifts us with a really beautiful epilogue. Believe me, you’d love LOVE Cam because he was one of a kind; an honest man to boots who had simply endured too many heartaches of his own and deserved his HEA. Elise was a great heroine as well and complemented Cam for she believed in him, even through the heartaches. She helped him overcome his sad past and made him happy, which sure made me happy for them both!
I don’t know if there’ll be a third installment or not (I was unable to find any hint in the story or any announcement for that matter :( ) but I really hope the author doesn’t finish the series here. There are plenty more secondary characters IMO who deserve to have their own books. With that note, I’ll end my review with a rating of 4.25 stars. Recommended if you’re looking for a steamy, well-written medieval romance.