I was looking forward to a fun historical romance, and based on the back cover copy, that’s what I thought that I was getting. A story about a woman making a life for herself after choosing between a few suitors to marry the man that she loves. Which does happen, but it seemed like nearly every male character in the book was out for himself and what he wanted, regardless of how Lady Cicely Bowen feels about it. I finally had to put the book down when one of her suitors tries to force himself on her, despite her repeated protestations. Rape, even rape that makes the heroine feel all fluttery inside, is not my idea of a romance novel.
I enjoy historical romances not only for the characters, but for the unusual settings and the ways that that affects the characters. Reading about Cicely’s transition from a pampered young lady of the court to a a strong woman in the border lands of Scotland was fascinating. I always enjoy seeing how people react and adapt to new situations, and I absolutely devoured Cicely’s story. She had an inner strength and self-reliance, even in the face of several alpha males, that had me cheering for her the entire time.
The men, on the other hand, drove me crazy. Scheming Scotsmen and Scotsmen whose response to “I want it” is to go out and take it, although probably fairly representative of the period, saturated the book to the extent that by the time that I had made it through kidnapping, bullying (including the confiscation of a dowry by someone who has no right to it), and then moving on to a rape scenario, I was done. Forcing a woman who has just suffered a huge loss and given birth to have sex when she repeatedly says no so that you can get what you want is simply not sexy to me. That’s when I put the book down.
Now, not all of the actions of the men were so horrible; for example, after the kidnapping incident the kidnapper hardly forced his attentions on Cicely; instead he used the time that they had together to get to know her better and try to convince her to stay. Although when I first met him he seemed domineering, the better I got to know him the more I liked him. Even for the actions that I didn’t care for, Ms. Small made sure that I understood the rationale behind them. It was very clear that some of the men wanted, power, money, or a combination of the two. I just got fed up because it seemed like very few of the men had qualities redeeming enough to make up for their actions.
All that being said, I think that Ms. Small captures the feeling of early fifteenth-century Scotland. From the wild lairds and their lands, to the Scottish honor codes, to the struggles of James I as he tries to consolidate his power, I felt very much as if I was there. Not only that, but the insight into people’s daily lives, from cooking and cleaning to healing and birthing, helps me to feel a part of the events that are going on. This book drew me in and held me, past the point where I first thought of putting it down, because I was so involved with the world and Cicely. An overabundance of domineering greedy men simply ruined it for me. Readers who like extremely forceful men will probably enjoy this book, but I prefer heroes that don’t need to resort to rape.