My review contains spoilers and they're mostly my thoughts as I went with the book...
So, I finally finished Margo Maguire’s The Highlander’s Desire, book 2 of the Highlander Brothers series. Sadly, it was a sore disappointment for me. By the last few chapters, I was willing this to end just because I’m still stubborn enough to not DNF-ing a book. I wouldn’t say the author’s writing is bad but this was nothing exceptional either. The storytelling was way too full of clichés to hold my attentions for a longer period, hence at about half-way through, I found myself drifting towards other books.
I liked book 1, The Warrior Laird. It was rather good, with some nice paranormal twist to go with it. We meet the McMillan siblings and learn of their tragic past. I don’t remember much, but their father, the Laird of their clan and one of the brothers died very young on an attack one night, treachery of a guest staying with them at that time. Their mother, too, died that winter, alone and cold, while trying to move her remaining offspring to her father’s clan, the MacMillan. They finally did arrive and their grandfather took them in (3 boys and a girl). Hence Dugan and his brothers and sister are known to be MacMillans today. Dugan has become the Laird after their grandfather’s death. One of their brothers is already married. In Dugan’s story, we find him owing a huge amount of money, something that is looming over his head. This becomes a cause for concern to the well-fare of the clan and a headache for him. Then, he hears of this treasure somewhere and a desperate Dugan decides to go on a hunt for it. On the way he meets Maura, a noblewoman. Maura was a bit of a TSTL who thought she can traipse through the Highlands all by herself in search of her mentally challenged younger sister. With Dugan’s help, she flees from her guards and tags along with him and his men. In here, we also meet Lachann, Dugan’s younger brother. He was said to have ‘the auld eyes’ or someone having very sharp sense and instinct. He intrigued me a lot, when, at the end, after Dugan and Maura marry, he’s sent on a mission of his own that would secure his own future. But would you believe that I read none of the mysterious ‘auld eye’ in the Lachann I saw here? Total nada. Let me tell you why...
The Highlander’s Desire takes places around 3 years after The Warrior Laird. In the beginning, much like book 1, we see a flashback of how MacMillans became the mortal enemies of the MacAuleys. How Dugan’s lady love chose him over Callum MacAuley because her father willed her to marry him, because Callum, having the riches stolen from other clans, was the better prospect. Lachann had sworn off the matters of heart after Fiona’s betrayal. He’s pretty sure he’ll never love again, and a few secret dalliances with eager lasses are all he wants at the moment. So when Dugan asks him to marry the daughter of Bruce MacDuffie, Lachann thinks it’s for the best. The place called Kilgorra, where the MacDuffies live, is a piece of island that is valuable for the MacMillans for their security purposes. Any ship coming through has to pass through Kilgorra first before reaching the MacMillan lands. An agreement was signed by the MacDuffies and the MacMillans; Lachann would marry Catrìona MacDuffie, in return he’d become the laird, will train an army of able warriors and secure the isle. This agreement seemed like the best solution for everybody.
On his way there, Lachann’s men start poking fun at him. They’ve heard that the bride-to-be is... rather plain to look at. Can Lachann marry an unattractive girl? Lachann just acts the stoic martyr. Oh he’d do it for his clan, as if marrying a plain looking girl is equal to a death sentence! After all, he’s not looking for love, so that would be not trouble to manage, right? After the requisite heir is born, he’ll go about his duties and his wife can do the same. I was pretty interested at this notion, that the heroine is not beautiful. I was hoping to find Lachann a transformed man by Catrìona when he meets her cause I thought she’s the heroine. He’s transformed all right, just more determined not to marry her at all. Why, you ask?
Here is the reason... I was divested of that notion soon enough. Catrìona is far from being the heroine. Yes she’s rather plain looking, with mousey brown hair and eyes, but that’s not it. In addition to being ugly, Catrìona is mean, petty, evil, man-hungry (as in having many lovers throughout the island) and prone to throwing tantrum. And guess who is the target of it all more often than not? Why, it’s her innocent, blonde, blue-eyed and beautiful, goody-two-shoes step-sister Anna! Catrìona is so jealous of Anna that she can’t stand her. Anna has not been treated correctly after her mother, Sigrid, passed away right after her marriage to laird MacDuffie while giving birth to his son. It seems that Catrìona is basically a menace to the island, while her father is a drunken hobo who doesn’t care what happens to them one way or the other.
I was deflated, plain and simple. I could see the ending of this story even before it began. Cliches, clichés… more clichés. And a lumpy plot to go with it. *sigh*
When Lachann arrives, the first thing that catches his eyes, of course, is Anna and he falls for her on spot. After all, she’s the beautiful one, the ‘puir lass’ who’s being harassed by that eeeevil Catrìona, all-day-long! She’s well-liked by everyone and a help around the island. It turns out, Anna’s father was a laird too but he passed away when she was very young. Her mother comes from Norway but there was no other information. I wasn’t even sure why, if her father was a laird, Anna was never taken to the Kearvaig(sp?) clan. She’s supposed to have her own family there, right? Anyhoo, to make long story short, Anna is now a servant, ardently waiting for someone to come and rescue her. Even better, if she could somehow get to her Norwegian relatives, she’d right this moment. But she doesn’t know how to get there, nor has any idea about them. It seems that she’s stuck in Kilgorra for good.
The second thing Lachann notices is that Callum MacAuley is here too and apparently, already has cozy himself up. Apparently, his wife has just passed away and he’s ready to move on. Now, this doesn’t bode well. Lachann can see that the sly bastard has ingratiated himself not only with the Laird and Catrìona but also is acting as the soon-to-be laird throughout the island, leaving blunders on his wake. What Lachann wants is to take control of this immediately and bring back some of the peace in the island. He also wants his men to find able men on the isle who can train and become fine warriors to help securing their island. Even though after seeing his fiancée-to-be he had lost much on his interest, Lachann tries to find some common ground with Catrìona for the sake of their upcoming nuptials. But his mind is forever occupied with the beautiful servant girl he’s seen. Lachann knows he can’t dally here and set a bad example. Besides, he’s not the one to dally with servants, yet Anna is always there, distracting him.
Anna, on the other hand, is having heart-pumping reactions towards the big, brawny Lachann MacMillan. We find her forever telling herself that men are of no good. She’s seen plenty of examples growing up, one was her step-father, then there was her best friend Kyla. Kyla married a guy named Birk some years ago. The first year was happy. But the moment she conceived, Brik had an accident that did something to his head. The man changed, becoming more and more dependent on liquor. It got so bad that he started beating up his wife whenever he saw fit. Anna is always worried about her, hating Birk with a vengeance. She has promised never to let a man in her life, ever… yet it took her one incident to change her mind. Really? That day, Birk again attacks Kyla, beating her to bloody pulp. An enraged Anna goes there to give the oaf a piece of her mind. In the process, she’s almost attacked by Brik. At the same time, Lachann was happening by and saves her. That’s all it took to change Anna’s mind about men and all their devilry! Lachann is now her secret crush, and against her better judgment, she begins daydreaming about him, all the while knowing he’s here to marry Catrìona and become Laird.
As the story progresses, Kyla is attacked by Birk a few more times, and though Anna tried her best to convince the girl to leave her husband because he’s so violent towards her, it seemed that the girl was dumb enough not to care. She’d be beaten to bloody pulp, Anna would save her, keep her and her infant son, Douglas, somewhere hidden for a while. After a while, when she’s healed enough, Kyla would return to her husband’s house cause that’s what a good, biddable wife does. None of Anna’s pleas could budge her from her decision. Birk would be nice to her for a while… and then, he’s not nice again. The cycle went on and on right till the end, while she finds herself pregnant again with another baby. Needless to say, I was super annoyed. The oaf was finally killed by Lachann cause he was getting out of hand.
Now back to the matter of Lachann and Anna. So it happens, in a few weeks he’s here, Anna and Lachann not only begin craving each-other but also, at one point, they become intimate. Anna is ever scared that, one, Lachann would marry Catrìona and she’d be left to witness this with a broken heart; two, Catrìona would be super angry to find out about this. Duh and duh! She knew about it all, yet she slept with him. I’m not sure exactly what she expected! This, of course, helps Lachann to change his mind. He doesn’t want to marry Catrìona anymore cause he believes he has seen enough of her bad behavior to not want to be shackled to her for the rest of his life. Instantly, he plans on a different strategy, though he keeps Anna in the dark about it. Note that he still doesn’t know that Anna is the step-daughter of MacDuffie. I still wonder how, no one, EVER, mentioned this to him, until the very end. Ugh.
There were plenty of lame misunderstandings along the way. Both Anna and Lachann harbor some misleading thoughts about each-other, confusions that could’ve been solved if they actually talked and not keep things hanging. Lachann was supposed to be the one with the ‘auld eyes’, yet he had no idea WTF was going on around him until it was almost late, or too late. One big example was Anna’s true identity. Another was the fire. Lachann does try making changes throughout the island but for Callum MacAuley. He was proving to be an annoyance, creating bigger troubles as that said fire. It seemed like he’s been planning with Catrìona, but I was never really sure what they exactly wanted or the nuances of their relationship, apart from the fact that they were sleeping together. Was it Catrìona who was leading Callum? Or was it all Callum’s plan. No explanations, as if the author decided to lump two ‘villains’ together, only to get rid of them both in two successive, very conveniently done incidents.
We find Catrìona keeping up with her bad name by constantly being mean to people, among other things that is. Funny, it was made to look as if, when she’s not thinking about ruling Kilgorra with Callum, she’s thinking about how to demean Anna and make her life hell. Got me thinking why would this girl be so contemptuous towards her step-sister, aside from the fact that Anna is known to be the beauty? One reason was just that, Catrìona had always been told she’s ugly, she’s the ‘wee wren’, she’s the mousey, plain looking girl who’d never win a man. Yet, she had more lovers throughout the island than Anna. Even that was made to look like something bad. How dare the ugly girl acquire so many lovers? Man-hungry little slut, that’s what she is!!! *eyeroll* Would you believe that every single tongue was wagging behind her back?
But that wasn’t the only thing mind you. Looking more into of the background as it was scattered throughout the book, I learned that Sigrid came here when Catrìona was barely 11, had just lost her own mother. And the moment she and Anna were here, her father entirely forgot about her. With no mother and her loving father forgetting about her too, all the while preferring his new, more ‘beautiful’ family? What 11 yrs. old can forgive her father for being such an a$$? Moreover, she was neglected, constantly judged and condemned. It was as if everyone ALWAYS expected her to fail and do something bad. NO ONE gave her a choice or a chance.
For me, every time I read through one of Catrìona’s thoughts, in midst of all the anger and hatred, I read despair and insecurity. And every time she was vilified, I saw that the people around her helped her becoming the kind of human being she was, as if she was just trying to keep up with her ‘bad name’ since no one expected anything better of her. Then they went and judged her for being ‘mean, petty, evil, man-hungry’ etc. etc. etc. For me, everything she did throughout the story was a result of the prior neglect and unfair comparisons... probably a cry for help that never came. That’s what I meant when I said she was never really given a true voice or a choice. My words might give the impression that I’m supporting her but I, in no way, condone the things she’d done to hurt people. As I mentioned before, I just wanted to get into her psyche and understand her better. The author left clues left and right for me to come to my own conclusions about her, and have to say, I wasn’t at all convinced about this ‘the villainous step-sister’ plot.
I was also enraged when Lachann became angry on behalf of Anna upon learning that MacDuffie didn’t care for her enough to give her her proper place in Kilogorra. FFS, the guy didn’t even care about his own daughter! Oddly enough, I didn’t see one single person in all of Kilgorra mentioning this fact or say something in Catrìona’s favor. After all, it’s Catrìona who is the rightful heir to MacDuffie’s legacy, not Anna. I found this totally unbelievable, and unacceptable.
Then, after coming to the conclusion that Callum was up to no good, Lachann asks MacDuffie to make him the laird to honor the agreement as he’s much more capable of taking care of Kilgorra. MacDuffie finds no other option, seeing how bad of an influence Callum MacAuley had already proven himself to be. Catrìona is, apparently, beyond all redemption, hence totally unmarriageable for Lachann. Then again, he had already planned to marry Anna and make her the mistress of Kilgorra, so she was but one inconvenience to get rid of.
Callum the idiot blasts himself to pieces while trying to tamper with Lachann’s munitions and Catrìona is finally banished from Kilgorra for being such an evaailllll lass who tried to drown Anna’s cat. Yah, you read it right. That was her big, bad offense that finally ticked Lachann off. Anna even tells her ‘I won’t miss you when you’re gone’ or something like that. Anna, must feel great to say that on her face when it’s Catrìona who was supposed to be the mistress of Kilgorra, hmm?
Then, as if on cue to the ending, Anna’s Norwegian relatives arrive to take her away. Not only that, the cherry on top is when it’s revealed that Anna is royalty! This is also when Lachann becomes aware of the fact that Anna is MacDuffie’s step-daughter. LOL Now, if they’re royalty, then why did Anna’s mother come all the way to Scotland to be married to the laird of a small, insignificant clan? I have no idea cause this vague information was never properly explained throughout the story. I, personally, found it rather confounding. There was also no recap or mention of the first book and except for the first chapter, no update on Dugan and Lachann’s own family either.
See what I meant by ‘lumpy plot’ and clichés? By then, I just about had enough of this farce and wanted this to end so bad that I skimmed through the last few chapters.
I’d be eagerly waiting to see if the author takes up the challenge on making a worthy heroine out of Catrìona in a later installment, that is, if she decides to continue on with the series. Otherwise, this is probably the end of this series for me. 3 stars, barely made it.