Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Review: The Chief

The Chief
Monica McCarty
Historical Romance/Scotland/1305
Highland Guard/Book 1
Ballantine Books/March 23, 2010

From the back cover ~

An elite fighting force like the world has never seen...

Scouring the darkest corners of the Highlands and Western Isles, Robert the Bruce handpicks ten warriors to help him in his quest to free Scotland from English rule. They are the best of the best, chosen for their superior skills in each discipline of warfare. To lead his secret Highland Guard, Bruce chooses the greatest warrior of all.

The ultimate Highland warlord and a swordsman without equal, Tor MacLeod has no intention of being drawn into Scotland’s war. Dedicated to his clan, the fiercely independent chief answers to no one—especially not his alluring new bride, bartered to him in a bid to secure his agreement to command the deadliest fighting force the world has ever seen. The treacherous chit who made her way to his bed may have won his hand, but she will never claim his heart.

Although her husband’s reputation is as fierce as his manner, Christina Fraser believes something softer hides beneath his brutal shell. But the only warmth she feels is in their bed, in the glorious moments of white-hot desire that disappear with the dawn. When Christina’s reckless bid to win her husband’s love goes awry and thrusts them into danger on the eve of war against England, Tor will face his ultimate battle: to save his wife and open his heart—before it’s too late.

Aside from westerns, historical romances set in the Highlands of Scotland are some of my favorites. The setting of the wild, rugged Highlands with the equally wild and rugged Highlanders makes for some enticing reading. The Chief holds true to that belief even though technically, Isle of Skye is where Tormod MacLeod rules as Chief of MacLeod. I found myself swept up not only in the political intrigue, the tension of the time period but also in the fragile and tenuous beginnings of the romance.

Tormod MacLeod is a leader, born to it. He's been leading his clan for over 20 years, since he was ten and his parents were killed in a raid. He allows nothing to come before his clan. Not even an unexpected wife. His reasons for marrying Christina Fraser are purely political, for the good of his clan. Tor is in for a surprise with his new wife. He expected them to lead separate lives, only spending time together in bed and even then he wouldn't allow himself the luxury of staying in her bed for the night. All that began to change with Tor coming to appreciate what Christina gave him, not only in bed but outside of bed. Even when his viewpoint began to change, he still stayed true to his character and put his clan above all. He simply began including his wife as part of his clan, not separate. Then he got stubborn, but more on that later.

Christina Fraser is caught between a cruel father and a man who both fascinates and frightens her. She is left without any choice but to set aside her honor and do what she can to save her sister. This puts her in a marriage she had no wish for but vows to make the best of. I was seriously thankful that she didn't bitch and moan about her situation. She wasn't always happy but she wiped her tears away and did the best she could. The one thing she could do that most women of the time could not was read. This was explained and I thought the author gave a plausible reason for it.

There is a lot of conflict, both with the politics of the time and the relationship between Tor and Christina. He wants to keep her out of his business, mainly the training of the Guard which must be done in secret. She wants to be part of his life, to know him and help him however she can. Tor begins to thaw and spend more time actually talking with his wife. Shocking, I know! But Christina does managed, inadvertently, to get herself into some trouble leading Tor to decide he was right after all, and that they should lead separate lives. No more getting close and sharing thoughts and feelings for this Highlander. Men!

Speaking of men... oh my, the Guards are coming! I loved the whole scenario of these fierce warriors coming together to form this elite band of warriors. The fact that many are born enemies only adds to the hostile environment that they must overcome. I'm looking forward to reading the books of all of the Guard. And while I don't have a favorite, I am completely intrigued by the ultimate loner, bad boy of the group - Lachlan "Viper" MacRuairi. I just know he's got a story to tell!

All of the Guard are give what they call "war name" or what we would refer to now as call signs. They reflect that warrior's special ability and in a way become terms of respect and affection. Another thing about these men, they are not knights, with the exception of one. This is mentioned a number of times, emphasizing the fact that they will not fight like knights but like warriors.

I was surprised at what a fast read this turned out to be. I tend to read historicals at a slower pace. I think because there is usually more narrative than there is dialogue. There was a lot of narrative but I still flew through the 400 pages fairly quickly which shows how much I enjoyed the story and the writing. The only minor problem I had was the language. Most of the time the syntax had the feel of the place and time but a few times it had a 21st century feel in the words and phrasing which caused me to pause and re-read, breaking the flow of the story.

I do hope that all the Guards get their own books. I'm fascinated with the period and the characters. The author, Monica McCarty, has extensive notes on the history and background of this series on her website. I had such fun exploring her site and learning more about the history that helped in inspire the series.

Rating: A-

The Highland Guard Series so far ~

The Chief
The Hawk
The Ranger


  1. I skimmed through your review, Les... but I'm intrigued at your grade :) LOL, you enjoyed it... but then again, I'm not much for Highland historicals... I'm more into the regency period and England. Hmmm. Oh and you know what? I've seen this cover many times, but what stopped me from considering it was the 6-packs on the cover. Ugh. I'm so tired of those covers!!

  2. Nath ~ I do think I was in the mood for this and didn't realize it until I started reading.

    The cover - Me too! So tired of the 6 packs & I think all the covers in this series will be similar to this one.