My review contains spoilers and they're mostly my thoughts as I went with the book...
The Warrior Laird is my first book by Margo Maguire. While I did love the author’s writing and the historical aspects, the rush of fortune hunting and Highlands, overall, somehow, I didn’t find the book excellent. MM can write without a doubt, but I had trouble with the characters. Both Logan and Maura were too confused over what to do with each-other throughout the story. Also, there was repetition of information all over the book which bugged me too much.
I was really saddened by the opening scene of the book, reading how Dugan lost his father, the Laird of Maclain and his eldest brother, at a very young age, by the hands of the Duke of Argyll’s men. These men were Campbells and supposedly, the orders came from one Major Duncanson. The killing was done under trust, which means, killing/attacking the host while accepting his hospitality. Dugan, his mother, younger brothers Robert and Lachann, along with an infant sister, Alexandra fled somehow. But, Dugan’s pregnant mother died of cold and hunger on the way to their maternal grandfather’s keep, to the MacMillans. After they reached, Dugan and his siblings lived with their grandfather. In time, Dugan, being the eldest, became the laird as his grandfather had no other heir to pass on the title. Now, as Dugan knows how painful it is to lose his family and members of his clan, he’d save his new home, Braemore, the land of the MacMillans now matter what. I, at first, welcomed his devotion to his land but when this came to play in his relationship with Maura, it became a bit unbearable for me. I’ll explain that later. So, Dugan’s life revolves mostly around his clan. He’s fought in a war or two and doesn’t really want his family or his clan to fall under the swords every again. Robert has already married and has kids of his own. We meet neither Robert nor Alexandra in this book, but only by mention. Now, after 17 yrs. of Glencoe massacre, Argyll sends Dugan to pay up his rent with a really exorbitant price. Dugan is very worried about how to pay up. He doesn’t have a lot of time. No cattle raid could bring him this huge amount so he thinks up something; very farfetched but a solution nonetheless. He would look for the French gold his grandfather always talked about. About two years ago, the French helped the Highlands in their ‘rebellion’. Before the French left, they hid a big stash of gold somewhere in the Highlands. The history of how Dugan’s grandfather came by the information was somewhat vague but apparently, some French soldier gave him a part of a map, that had been torn neatly into 4 pieces, which are now scattered. Dugan decides to look for the pieces of maps since there have been rumors of another piece are whirling around. Lachann doesn’t like this idea at all, of course, because it’s so unbelievable. There’s no telling what would happen but that this search would go all but in vain. I thought Lachann was very practical, even if a bit grouchy. He was called as the one with the ‘auld eye’, the one with the better instincts. Anyway, despite Lachann’s obvious displeasure, they set out to find the other piece of the map. Dugan knows that otherwise, there would be war. His hands are tied either way so whatever it takes to help his clan.
I was pretty baffled reading about Maura’s family. It seems like parents (especially the men) chose to love siblings or discard them as they will! WOW, but that was horrible even to read about. Maura has 14 siblings in total but she’s the one just before the youngest sibling came. Her father, a Duncanson, it seems like has the heart of a granite. Her mother never says or does anything to displease him. So when her youngest sibling, a sister, Rosie was born with physical defect, Laird Aucharnie, ordered to leave the child somewhere so that it dies. Maura, of course, couldn’t let it happen. Even though she was barely a teen herself, she save her little sister and somehow made sure that she’s well taken care of by a woman in the village with whom Maura had good relationship. I don’t know how she did that for at least 10 long years, seeing how young she herself was to begin with but she did it, until her father found out that his unwanted (and a source for their ‘embarrassment’) youngest child didn’t die. Maura fell out of favor with her father for defying his orders. He then sends her away to one of his friends, Lord Ilay’s home ‘to learn ladylike behavior’. Rosie was taken away in a remote area of the Highlands, with only a horrible nurse to take care of her. It’s been 2 yrs since Maura has been in Ilay’s house. She tried once or twice to run away, her only concern to save her youngest sister. But, she failed. Today, she has another plan. Her father has recently betrothed her with an old man known for bad habits, Baron Kildary. Aucharnie’s man, Baird will arrive to take her to the Baron. Maura plans to escape as soon as she gets the chance. Because she needs gold to travel up to the place where Rosie is, Maura sneaks in to steal some gold from Ilay’s study and sort of accidentally finds a piece of a map. She thinks this might help her in her quest so she takes the map as well. Maura’s plans, too, were a little more than farfetched. I rolled my eyes more than once seeing how confident she was that she WILL get to her sister, even though she was all alone, the place was in the farthest corner of the Highlands where she’s never been before. She practically has NO idea where her sister is but she’s confident she’ll save her! Huh?? Highlands isn’t a place one can just travel for fun, and the medieval Highlands was worse. So, I knew from the moment she formulated her plan that she’s going to annoy me throughout, and she did.
Now, Baird, the odd villain of this story, certainly did steal the show for me. At first, I thought he was another of those greedy soldiers who lusted after the Lord’s unwanted daughter and when spurned by her, has been plotting revenge ever since. It seems like his father, a very important General, has given him to Aucharnie for training. Baird hoped that he’ll be promoted soon enough. But that never happened. Baird is ambitious and frustrated with having to nurse the bratty daughter of his Lord. He wants Maura but only as the part of his revenge. He plain hates her. Throughout the journey, he plans to rape and stage Maura’s killing more than once. Yes, he was a hateful character, until something happened along the way...
Maura first meets Dugan on the way to baron Kildary’s. Dugan was with his men and Lachann, and saves Maura from an enraged ram. Later she sees him again in an inn where she was going to spend the night. She flirts with Dugan, in hopes that he might help her escape. Dugan, at first, thinks of her as one of the nobleman’s wife. When he sees Baird, he even thinks her as Baird’s wife and once, thought of having a short fling but discards the notion later on. Nevertheless, he has been in lust with her from the moment he saved her and now, it’s taking a toll on him. Apparently, he’s always hard when she’s around. I liked it that Dugan doesn’t sleep around to ‘take the edge off of him’ and stays true to Maura throughout the story. At night, when Maura goes out to have a look at the inn to smoothen up her escape plan, Dugan follows her. He was studying the pieces of the map (he found and bought the other piece from another man) with Lachann. Maura, beforehand, eavesdropped and heard Dugan’s men talking about a map and became instantly suspicious. She already thought this map she had held some importance because it belonged to Argyll himself, who is related to Maura. When Dugan follows her out, they talk and kiss. Soon, as Dugan and his men fall asleep, Maura slips out again, finds the map in Dugan’s bag. Somehow she knows it’s the same map as hers. Since she’s heard the word gold, a plan has been formulating in her head. What if she can look for the gold and unearth it herself? Then she can take Rosie out of the Highlands and somewhere their father can never find them. She wouldn’t have to marry that old man, who would never let her keep Rosie. Huh woman, are you sane? This bugged me a lot that she just *thought* she can search for the gold, find and dig it out … all by herself. That says something, doesn’t it? Yah, definitely TSTL. So, Maura steals the maps and runs.
At daytime, Dugan finds out that both his maps and Lady Maura has escaped. Note that he still doesn’t know that Maura is the kin to his greatest enemies. But he’s incensed anyway and plans to find her out. Meanwhile, Baird is also incensed and because of some misunderstandings, he sets out in the wrong direction, thinking Maura would try to go back to her father’s home. We get to see how Baird’s mind works throughout the story because the author kept us giving glimpses. The man definitely had some psychological problems. He was always hearing his father’s set-downs about how he’s nothing but a disappointment. He would talk to himself and deny his father’s accusations. And he was mad at Maura for making him aware of his own shortcomings; one definitely was his non-existent good looks. But there were more to this...
As she was fleeing, Maura comes across the hovel of an old witch named Sorcha, who invites her in. I have to mention that the environment of paranormal was done really good. It was there all over the story, making its presence known in the oddest of times. Sorcha is blind but can do anything without help. She lives alone, only with a big dog as her companion, who, it seems, understands whatever she says. Maura is a bit creeped out, especially when Sorcha spoke of a quest, dust and wind, of allies and a Glencoe lad whom she’d meet. Sorcha talks about her destiny but Maura doesn’t understand or believe her. She leaves soon enough and is later caught by Dugan, who followed her trail meticulously. Dugan at first wants to punish her for taking the maps, and then as he gleans the information of Maura’s betrothal to Kildary, he makes a plan. The rich baron can afford the money he needs for his rent and so, he decides to hold Maura for bride ransom. This at first didn’t bug me that much. But, as the story progressed, this ransom thing became a huge issue between Maura and Dugan’s relationship. Now, since Maura also stole the maps, Dugan suspected she knew of the gold. Maura tells him that she does but nothing else. Dugan wanted to send her to Braemore but later decides to keep her with him and continue for his search of the gold. In the meantime, fondling and kissing didn’t stop since both were attracted to one another. Dugan doesn’t want to sleep with her because he wants to give her back to Kildary as a virgin. I wish Maura was stronger and rebelled. She did rebel but very half-heartedly. She was mostly drawn away by lust and Dugan’s manliness. I was annoyed by this. I knew she was TSTL most of the times but she could’ve, at least, showed some spirits. This took away some fun. Then, Maura learns of Dugan’s childhood tragedy from one of his soldiers, Archie, and begins to connect the pieces, especially with Sorcha’s words. She was glad that she never told him about her own family since Dugan might decide to kill her afterwards. She also knew he’s the Glencoe lad and dust and the wind was definitely the treasure’s path, as the old witch said. But Maura kept most of those from Dugan since none believed in it for a long time.
Photo of Loch Eriboll, courtesy: Visit and Travel
Soon, one day, Dugan and Maura give into their mutual passion. I didn’t like it since Dugan was still resolute on giving her to Kildary. Maura should’ve been mad at him, sometimes I thought she was but she couldn’t stick to it. Even though I knew Dugan was supposed to do anything for his clan but he was also developing feelings for Maura, too. I wanted him to man up a little and not think of the ransom. But Dugan did. He was very confused too. It would help if they can find the gold. Then he can keep Maura with him, can even marry her (note: he still didn’t know of Maura’s family). Maura made some real TSTL plans to escape from Dugan. I understood her need to get to Rosie ASAP, even respected it but her plans were almost always farfetched. Thankfully, this time, she knew as they’re in Highlands now, she’ll never find her way without Dugan’s help. Then she also begins to open up to Dugan because she knew if she can help him find the gold, maybe he’ll give her some of it to take Rosie away to somewhere else. It was a pretty messy situation no doubt. After hearing of Rosie, Dugan decides to help her. One thing bugged me, apart from repetition of information, was the clue on the map. It was on the back, written in French with some kinda wax that can only be revealed by dirt or sand. How is it that Maura saw this but Dugan and his men, who rolled and unrolled the pieces of the map hundreds of times, never did? This was totally unbelievable and was milked by Maura to gain some times with Dugan. She kept saying she knows the real clue, and what Dugan could do is only follow her directions.
Baird, meanwhile, finally understands how Maura has fooled him. After searching on the wrong trail, he finally begins to see Maura’s plan and comes across Sorcha’s hovel. Sorcha knows what’s in his mind and begins rattling away instantly about his greed and mean mind, that he would never be anything etc. She also tells him that the ‘rot of death’ is coming from his person. Baird loses his temper and asks about Maura. Sorcha tells him nothing but keeps up with her foretelling. Baird, in a rage, kills her. After that, he begins seeing Sorcha’s apparition and hearing her still rattling away in his ear, sometimes even touching his neck with her cold grip. Baird would keep on trying to push away her hands. Over and over again we see how he’s been haunted by not only Sorcha but also his father’s ghost. It was very creepy and gave me goosebumps. I thought it was done real neat! All these- his constant thought of how he’s going to fail his father again, his utter loathing for Maura on whom he put the blame and lack of sleep from the haunting starts messing up with Baird’s unsettled mind, which was already a mess with low self confidence. He was mean of course, but in the end, I ended up pitying him. I just couldn’t hate him out and out when I realized how from his childhood he was emotionally abused or blackmailed by his exacting General father, which resulted in the man he became today. His father was cruel, to say the least and his treatment was just wrong. Baird’s only goal of life was to make his father proud, and to do that, he can’t have any emotions whatsoever. The glimpses of the slow collapse of his mind, as I already said, stole the show for me anyway. When he was finally killed, I felt sad, honestly.
After Dugan learned of Maura’s real identity, the story picked up quite a bit. He hated her kin, tried to hate her too, but failed. Dugan doesn’t tell his men about it, which was very considerate of him, because he knew at least Lachann will react badly and might even kill Maura. Maura, on the other hand, was sure Dugan would give her away no matter what. But she also realized she’d fallen in love with him and she wants to make up for what her family did, even if a little, by helping him find the gold. Later Dugan also has his own realization, that he can’t give Maura back no matter what. He lets her know about it, also that he would help her find Rosie. The trouble, for me, was that I couldn’t believe in their declaration of love or feelings for each-other. There were just too much hullaballoo going on around them, and yes, mistrust. Too much of that as well. It went on for too long for my liking. I felt that Dugan and Maura’s relationship development was hindered by all these. I won’t delve into the climax of the story but I liked it, even though everything was conveniently wrapped up. But, HEA is all I need and the book delivered it nicely, so I was happy in that regard.
Finally, there were implications that there might be connected books and I’m thinking, at least for Lachann and Alexandra. I tried finding some information but the author’s website doesn’t clarify anything. I’ll keep my eyes open nevertheless and will definitely read the next installments. 3.75 stars.
PS: The author’s note clarifies that most of the names used in this story (of Lochs and places) were invented by Margo Maguire herself and doesn’t exist in reality. So, I refrained from using them in my review.
This ARC was provided to me by Avon via edelweiss which didn’t influence my review and rating in any way.