Why is it that every book I see that has “Highland” in the title has to have a half-naked man on the cover? Not that I object to half-naked men in principle, but they’re all starting to look the same…
The ruthless enforcer of Scotland’s most powerful clan, Jamie Campbell will use any means necessary to vanquish lawlessness and unrest among the feuding Highland clans. Seduction is a game as easily played as subterfuge, but when Jamie poses as a suitor to a rival clan’s daughter in order to expose treason, the line between duty and pleasure is suddenly blurred. Ebony-haired, ruby-lipped Caitrina Lamont defies him, denies him, and arouses him like no other woman.
Caitrina has no intention of forsaking her beloved father and doting brothers for a husband—especially a hated Campbell. But Jamie’s raw, sensual strength and searing kiss melt her resistance. When her idyllic world is shattered, Caitrina’s only hope to save her clan lies in the arms of Jamie Campbell, the enemy she holds accountable for its ruin. Can their tenuous truce, born in the velvet darkness of passionate nights, forge a love as strong as the sword that rules the Highlands?
Rating: C+ for content / B+ for narration
I’m not normally one for Highlander romances, but I picked this audiobook up because I enjoy listening to this particular narrator and thought I’d give it a go.
The story is simple, but well told. Caitrina Lamont is the daughter of the chief of the Clan Lamont and has led rather a sheltered life. She’s beautiful and intelligent, but somewhat spoiled and never wonders at how her father can afford to keep her in fancy dresses when there are parts of their home and lands which are in need of attention.
When she meets Jamie Campbell (in rather ridiculous circumstances, I admit) she can’t help but feel the stirrings of an intense attraction. He’s handsome, strong and clearly more than able to handle a spoilt young woman, but he’s not come to the Highlands to dally. Or rather, that wasn’t his original intention. Jamie is known far and wide as the Earl of Argyll’s henchman, his “enforcer”, and has a fearsome reputation for being cold, ruthless and getting the job done by whatever means necessary. England and Scotland have been recently united under King James (1st of England and 6th of Scotland), and while James cements his rule in England, Argyll is, to all intents and purposes, the ruler of Scotland.
Jamie has come to meet with the Laird of Lamont in order to gain information as to the whereabouts of rebels of the MacGregor clan. He believes that Lamont is sheltering them because of a long-standing alliance and obligation, and intends to find the proof he needs by spending time at Lamont. On seeing the laird’s daughter, Jamie thinks that pretending he is searching for a wife – and that he is taken with the lovely Caitrina – will be the perfect cover for the true nature of his visit.
But the Campbells and the Lamonts are age-old enemies and as soon as Caitrina discovers Jamie’s true identity she is adamant that she wants nothing further to do with him. This aspect of the plot – “I fancy the pants off you but have to pretend to hate you because our clans don’t get on” does seem to be one of the stock-in-trades of the Highland romance that I don’t particularly care for, but fortunately it isn’t allowed to go on for too long.
A raid on Lamont in Jamie’s absence has tragic consequences – Caitrina’s father and brothers are killed, the place is all but razed to the ground and many of the castle’s inhabitants are killed in the attack. And worse (but unbeknownst to Caitrina), the assault is led by Jamie’s outlaw half-brother, Duncan, who is also seeking revenge on the MacGregor clan and has attacked Lamont with the intention of flushing them out.
Having realised what is happening, Jamie hurries back to Lamont and arrives in time to save Caitrina and to help with the defence of what is left of the castle.
Caitrina is naturally devastated at the loss of her family and her home, and she finally begins to grow up a little, seeing that her previous life had been one of undeserved ease and luxury. But she can’t stay there forever – and when Jamie proposes they marry in order to ensure her safety and so that she can reclaim Lamont, she agrees. Her main priority now is to rebuild her home and look after the well-being of her clansman and marrying Jamie is the only way she can do that. (Not that she doesn’t still fancy the pants off him – she does, and with good reason ;-))
For the most part, I thought the relationship between Jamie and Caitrina was well-developed. What starts out as an intense, mutual physical attraction begins to mature into something more as Caitrina comes to see that her husband – though a Campbell – is an honourable man, and one she can trust. She also begins to move past her grief for her father and brothers and to find a happiness with Jamie she’d never thought to experience again; while Jamie, too, is allowing himself to relax and let out the softer side of himself that he has always had to rein in before.
I found it very refreshing that Jamie was almost always unfailingly honest with his wife. There are several occasions when situations arise in which he has to tell her unpleasant truths – some of them things that will reflect badly on him – but he doesn’t shy away from it, believing she has a right to know. I confess, each time such a situation came up, I was on the point of rolling my eyes and waiting for something to be hidden and thus cause more conflict between them – but each time, Ms McCarty thankfully defied my expectations.
What didn’t work for me was Caitrina’s attitude towards Jamie in the last quarter of the novel. She is torn between her loyalty to her family and her loyalty to her husband – an impossible choice, and one the nature of which Jamie understands all too well. But her decision to hide the truth about her brothers from Jamie plunges them all into danger and even when she realises what she has done, she still can’t completely trust her husband. She becomes petulant and issues a ridiculous ultimatum, then drags Jamie to bed for hot, make-up sex, believing his enthusiastic participation means she’s got her own way. Which, of course, she hasn’t, so she hares off to see Argyll, without realising that Jamie has found his own solution to the problem over which they’ve been at odds.
Fortunately for her, Argyll isn’t a complete bastard – and Caitrina finally comes to realise that while Jamie has been painted as Argyll’s yes-man, the relationship between the men is in fact one of mutual respect and a certain amount of give-and-take, and that Jamie is perfectly capable of standing up to his powerful cousin when the occasion and his sense of justice demand it.
Roger Hampton is a narrator of whom I’ve become aware over the last year, having so far enjoyed his work on Grace Burrowes’ MacGregor Trilogy. He has a distinctive voice with a slightly husky quality which is very attractive and easy to listen to; and he is also one of the few narrators I’ve come across so far who is able to accurately and consistently employ a Scottish accent! All the characters in this audiobook are Scotsmen and women, and he skilfully navigates back and forth between the different characters and accents and his narration. He uses a number of variations in tone and accent for all the male characters, employing a rich, deep bass/baritone for Jamie which contrasts nicely with the slightly higher pitch and nasal tone he adopts for Argyll. Mr Hampton is also able to portray female characters convincingly, by employing a slight raising of pitch and softening of tone, and I thought his performance of Caitriona was very effective.
All in all, Highland Warrior was an enjoyable audiobook. Although the story itself was fairly predictable, and I’m not sure it’s a book I would have opted to read in the normal way of things, Roger Hampton’s expertly realised performance brought the characters to life and most definitely enhanced the overall quality of the experience.