Book/Author and Year Published: Highlander’s Dark Pride by Fiona Faris (2019)
Age/Genre: Scottish Medieval Highland Romance
Preferred Reading Environment: A window seat on a rainy day
Reading Accoutrements: Wrapped in warm blankets, enjoying warm tea and cookies
Content Notes: Parental Death, Kidnapping, Homeless Children, Violence, Child Prostitution, Ableism, Prejudice
October is officially over, so I wanted a change of pace from the paranormal and fantasy books that I have been reading for the past month. The first book to catch my eye in my Kindle queue was Highlander’s Dark Pride by Fiona Faris.
Emily Caldwell is the typical medieval English miss. Her father, Caldwell, is a knight who fights for the king when called while her mother stays home and raises their five daughters. Emily is smart and beautiful, but she has been sheltered. Her ultimate goal in life is to marry and continue doing embroidery for some other English nobleman’s house.
When Caldwell is injured at war and Emily’s uncle, a land-owning baron, is executed for treason, her life becomes a precarious balance. If Emily’s father were to die in the war, she, her mother, and her sisters would have nowhere to go. It becomes imperative that one of the girls marry a man of means who can protect her family should the worst happen. Emily’s older sister is deaf and not considered marriageable, which leaves Emily the next logical choice.
Because of the ongoing war, it takes a while before her father finds a man for Emily to marry. In fact, her father has time to heal from his wounds and return to the fighting. It is in battle that he finds the man who will marry his daughter. Alexander MacTavish is a Scottish soldier who saved Caldwell from an enemy dagger; he is loyal to the king and cares for his sister despite their difficult circumstances.
Alexander and his sister, Rebecca, were orphaned as children and left homeless and wandering the streets of Scotland until Alexander was tall enough to become a soldier. After Alexander saved Caldwell’s life, the king suggests that a match between Alexander and one of Caldwell’s daughters would be a fitting reward. It would also strengthen ties between Scotland and the English king. As a dowry, Alexander would be gifted one of the many properties that passed to Caldwell upon his brother’s death.
Upon her father’s arrival, Emily is informed that her father has found her a husband. She is ecstatic to be marrying, not to mention that she is also securing her family’s future. Until she discovers that she is going to wed a Scottish brute instead of the golden English lord she expected. She knows that she must marry whoever her father chooses, but she prays that her father will not make her marry Alexander. Talking to Rebecca helps calm Emily’s fear that Alexander will be abusive, however Emily is still reticent to marry him.
Emily and Alexander come from very different backgrounds and have differing expectations for their lives. While both wish for safety for their families, Alexander’s definition of safety is a lot simpler than Emily’s. Alexander simply wants their basic necessities met; Emily would also like some comforts, such as a bed and finer foods. As the group travels to their new home, Emily frequently compares herself to Rebecca, who is accustomed to life on the road, and finds herself lacking.
It doesn’t help that both Alexander and Rebecca tend to make fun of Emily for behaviors they think are weak. The siblings call Emily “Princess,” meaning that she requires delicate handling because she has never had to work, as they have. Ironically, early in the book Emily’s mother mentioned that Emily was the strongest of her daughters. Alexander is unfamiliar with Emily’s kind of strength – the kind that can guide a household through important visitors and help form alliances with neighbors – because he has never been a land owner.
Unfortunately, the hardships don’t stop when the group reaches their destination. The house has been razed by invaders and the local town is hesitant to trust the new lord of the manor because the last owner ignored their needs. While the trio struggles to get the house into shape and gain the loyalty of the townsfolk, they also struggle to appreciate each other’s strengths and compensate for their weaknesses. It’s not a surprise when they fall into the trap of a madman.
Okay, I can’t tell you anymore plot because of the spoilers. Let me tell you a little bit about my biggest irritation in this book: the characters are all very shallow. Alexander was homeless and now he’s a soldier; he muscles through his problems and cares for his people. Rebecca was also homeless and now she’s dependent upon her brother; she and Alexander have taken care of each other their whole lives with sheer strength of will. Emily grew up in a well-off household with the expectation that she would marry the nobleman of her father’s choosing and grow old doing embroidery; she is unaccustomed to physical labor…and rats.
Because Alexander and Rebecca are siblings with a shared history, Emily is often the odd man out. She is the one with customs the other two find wasteful and the butt of their jokes. Alexander sees his wife as incapable and his sister as competent. So, when Emily does something, he thinks she is betraying him or not working hard enough or she’ll start whining soon. When Rebecca does the same thing, she is accomplishing his goals or getting things done, etc.
I recognize that, for most of his life, Alexander did not have parents to demonstrate a healthy marriage. The thing that makes me mad is that he does have memories of his parents and the happy family they once were – he brings this fact up on more than one occasion throughout the book. Yet, he makes No Effort to have that kind of relationship with Emily.
For her part, Emily also makes no effort to try for a real marriage at the outset. By the time she begins to try, she has done a lot of damage to Alexander’s trust. Emily doesn’t really try to regain her husband’s trust, and for what seems like a very long time in the book, every effort she does make ends in a full on fit. I’m talking about crying, sobbing, throwing herself to the floor/chair/bed, screaming in frustration, etc.
Meanwhile, Rebecca serves as a sort of sounding board for the two of them. Emily talks out her doubts with Rebecca before the couple gets married and Rebecca reassures her with a story from the siblings’ childhood. So, Rebecca understands where Emily is coming from. On the other hand, Rebecca has spent her entire life protecting and being protected by Alexander, and she really doesn’t like seeing Alexander hurting. She could act as a bridge between the newlyweds to help encourage communication, but she doesn’t.
One thing I did wonder as I read this book was whether Rebecca would get her own story. I’ll probably keep my eye out, because I kind of want to know what happens to her.
Have you ever read a book that had a secondary character you found more interesting than the protagonists?