The Lady and the Highlander by Lecia Cornwall
I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. This is a spoiler-free review.
Scottish romances were once my ultimate guilty pleasure. It has been years since I picked one up. I spotted The Lady and the Highlander on NetGalley and snatched it up. A retelling of Snow White in the Scottish Highlands, I knew I couldn’t resist it.
Laire MacLeod’s father has married a mysterious widow who is a vain beauty that deals with potions and spells. Laire does not drink them with the rest of her family and is the only one who could see through her stepmother’s games. When Laire flees to find help from her Uncle the Lady’s huntsman follows her with orders to kill. Laire must survive in a dangerous new city and find the antidote to a poisonous potion before it is too late.
Iain Lindsay is cursed. He is bound for seven years to be the hunter of a Lady who uses him to bring back birds to use in her potions. When Laire MacLeod escapes the Lady’s nets, Iain tracks her to Edinburgh, where she’s found shelter with an unusual band of thieves, but he cannot bring himself to harm her. Instead, he finds himself falling in love with the MacLeod beauty.
But a Highlander’s oath is his bond, and the price for helping her is death, both his own, and of those he loves.*
I was sadly really disappointed by this book. There were issues with the plot and pacing as well as the characters. It felt like a first draft of a novel with potential, but needed serious work. The basic plot was decent: I liked the idea of the evil Queen/stepmother Bibana enchanting and destroying the MacLeod family. But the finer parts of the plot just didn’t appeal to me. There’s the chase from Laire’s home to Inverness, then Edinburgh, which is fine and suits the story, but then there’s this whole cast of child thieves thrown in midway through. They don’t seem to add much – they feel like a cheap way to add a bit of conflict, show the hero isn’t a terrible and broken man, and not much else. It felt like such an odd choice, almost like two plots of two different books were thrown together — and surely there was a better way of creating and resolving conflict without the children.
The beginning is very slow to start. Their first interaction in the book is on the night of her father’s wedding to Bibana. Laire does not drink alcohol, therefore she does not consume to poisoned wine that enchants her family and clansmen, and she is free to observe the scene. Her eyes fall on Iain, the witch’s sealgair, and they gaze at each other. A lot. There is a lot of gazing. I couldn’t help but think of this:
Follow this up with various descriptions of each other’s bodies, and you have the first 20% of the book. The pair have so little chemistry, which does the book no favors. They don’t even kiss until 68% of the way through, which I think goes against all the rules of romance.
The characterization of the couple themselves was problematic as well. I actually liked Iain, the fallen laird who is bound to the witch after he makes a terrible and tragic mistake. He’s dark and threatening when he’s playing the part of the sealgair, or huntsman, but undergoes an instantaneous transformation when he decides to help Laire instead of hunt her. He becomes a completely different man in what feels like a matter of paragraphs — like a switch in his head has been flicked on. Although there was some build up to this transformation, I felt the execution was slightly off and it just wasn’t believable.
My main problem is with Laire. She’s part of a fierce family of fighters and strong women. Sometimes she displays these traits, but more often than not she’s crying, fretting, or frozen in terror. In the beginning, she goes from gazing at Iain and being frozen in terror to kicking, screaming, cursing, and wielding a knife with some serious finesse. A strong heroine can do and feel these things, but again the execution was off. It’s almost like a major edit was done on her character, but some parts were overlooked. She was two different characters in one and I honestly couldn’t see the strong and fearsome woman that Iain saw. She doesn’t quite strike the believable balance of strength and softness.
Iain gets more of a fleshed out back story, which is tragic and helps explain his actions and motivations. Laire gets a build up to her back story, but when the reveal comes it just feels so anticlimactic. Similarly, there are a fair few throwaway lines that don’t really make much sense or act as unnecessary deux ex machina. When considered with the lack of chemistry, poor characterization, slow pacing, questionable geography, and a shaky plot, The Lady and the Highlander is a book I wouldn’t recommend. It showed potential, but needed some serious work before that potential could be achieved.
Have you read this book? What did you think?
*copy courtesy of Goodreads