I’ve been devouring Monica McCarty’s Highland Guard series this summer like a madwoman. They are sexy and smart and wonderfully, wonderfully Old Skooly, but without all the rape and violet eyes.
This is an actual picture of me, right now, in a kilted man-titty haze:
The Chief isn’t McCarty’s best book (Highland Scoundrel is my all-time favorite of hers), but it does a lot of work setting up what will be a ten to twelve book series. And it’s full of Old Skool themes that I luurve so much. Seriously, Fabio should be on this cover. In a kilt.
This book is set in 1305 and, like the rest of the series, follows warriors allied with Robert the Bruce against the King of England. All of the characters in the series (well, the main ones) are based on actual historical figures, which means McCarty probably did a fuck-ton of research to write these books, at least it seemed that way to me (seriously, check out the Resources section of her website. Holy shit).
Anyway, it’s 1305 and our heroine, Christina Fraser, is engaged in illicit, unlady-like behavior. She’s reading. Christina is not great at needlepoint or at not thinking too hard, so she’s not fitting in so great. She’s also curvy with a wide mouth and slanted eyes, and she makes men “think of sin.” Her sister, Beatrix, by comparison, is all fragile, ethereal beauty. While Christina is reading naughty stories about Lancelot and dreaming of a knight of her own, Beatrix wants to be a nun.
Their father is not okay with either of their aspirations. He is loyal to a free Scotland, and was captured and tortured by King Edward. He came back changed; he’s prone to losing his temper and he beats his children. He is consumed by the idea of vengeance against the king.
Daddy has decided to offer one of his daughter’s to Tor, Chief of MacLeod, in exchange for an alliance with Robert the Bruce. Tor lives on the Island of Skye and rules over the Western Isles, an area that’s ambiguous in its association as part Scotland. He’s got his own shit to do and has zero interest in getting involved in England and Scotland’s war. He’s also super brawny and a bad ass warrior, and Beatrix literally faints at the idea of being married to him (so Old Skool).
When he turns down Fraser’s offer of one of his daughters, Fraser hatches a new and super skeevy plan. He waits till Tor’s had a few and turned in for the night, and tells his daughters that one of them needs to climb into bed with The Chief. Daddy will bust through the door before anything happens and be all like “You ruined my daughter!” and then Tor will have to marry her and then he’ll be allied Fraser and Bruce whether he likes it or not, goddamnit.
Since Beatrix is all elvish and fainty, Christina realizes she’s got to take one for the team, here. So she crawls into bed with Tor, and Tor thinks she’s a wench that was sent up to take care of his manly urges, and there’s that awkward morning wood pressed into her ass-crack thing and sleepy “Mmmm, boobies.” And then penetration. Because Daddy lied. He was totally going to wait for his daughter to be ruined.
NICE JOB, ASSHOLE.
Also, hella Old Skool plot.
So Tor marries Christina and is super pissed about it. He also agrees to be indirectly involved with the war against England; he will train a super duper elite fighting force, like kilted Navy SEALs. These men make up the heroes of the other books in the series.
Most of this book is about Christina adjusting to Skye and figuring out what marriage to Tor means. The external conflict comes in the form of the very real danger they both face. Tor has to fight against raiders, and the possibility that one of his own men is a traitor. Add to that the fact that by marrying Christina, he’s more or less publicly sided with Fraser and Bruce, so now Edward’s supporters have their eyes on him.
If you like historical where the hero and heroine have to figure out how to operate a marriage, this is it. Christina and Tor have the smexing part down (Mmmm boobies. Mmmm giant Highlander schlong), but that’s about it.
Christina is almost painfully naive (but she’s also very young). She fantasizes about a chivalrous knight, not really understanding the violence and brutality that come with being a warrior. She doesn’t understand why Tor doesn’t open up to her, or confide in her as his wife despite the fact that she’s only known him for a few months. Because Tor rescues her from a rapist, and from her father’s violence, she’s got stars in her eyes when she looks at him.
Tor, for his part, doesn’t blame Christina for her dad’s super shitty scheme, but he isn’t putting an effort into their marriage either. He has sex with her, then sleeps with his men in the great hall (as in actual sleeping, not sexxoring). He doesn’t even offer to spoon her, asshole.
But Tor has a shitload of responsibility. He’s got a lot of people who depend on him for their livelihood and their protection, and now he has to train Highlander SEAL Team Six too, and try not to get dragged into a war. Of course, Christina could probably help with the running of the castle and such, but he’s being a douche about it.
And then there are the Old Skooly subplots. There’s Lady Janet, Tor’s former lover, who seems to be in the know about everything Christina isn’t. There’s Beatrix wanting to escape to a nunnery (and Christina helping her). There’s probably a traitor in the castle and raiders and war looming. And fevers. There are fevers.
Also other is a blessed lack of “och” and “dinnae” and “Donkeh!” so if that keeps you away from Highlander books, have no fear.
The reason this book got an A- was that I felt it dragged periodically. There were action scenes where Tor trains the Highland SEAL Team Six that broke things up a bit, but there was a lot of info-dump about the political climate and the other members of the Highland Guard.
Also, Christina read as a bit Pollyannaish to me, although there was a hilarious scene where she breaks through Tor’s super reserved exterior by pulling a move I call “The Reverse Kahleesi”—she asks him to give it to her from behind.
He breaks out into a sweat. He cannot handle this shit. It is glorious.
Overall The Chief is delicious medieval Old Skool meets New Skool romance, and I’m really looking forward to the next books in the series.