RITA Reader Challenge Review

RITA Reader Challenge: The Chieftain’s Curse by Frances Housden


Title: The Chieftain's Curse
Author: Frances Housden
Publication Info: Escape Publishing February 2013
Genre: Historical: European

Book The Chieftan's Curse This RITA® Reader Challenge 2014 review was written by Mad Hamster. This story was nominated for the RITA® in the Historical Romance category.

The summary:

Euan McArthur is a chieftain in need of an heir.

While still a young a warrior, Euan incites the fury of a witch. She retaliates with a curse that no wife will ever bear him an heir. As he buries his third wife and yet another bonnie stillborn son, Euan can no longer cast her words aside.

Morag Farquhar is a woman in need of sanctuary. With a young relative in tow, Morag flees the only home she has ever known to escape her brother, Baron of Wolfsdale, and find sanctuary in the MacArthur stronghold. Pronounced barren by a midwife, Morag is of little value to her family, but a Godsend to Euan, a lover he can’t kill by getting with child.

Years ago, chance drew them together, and tangled their lives in ways they could never have imagined. This time their destiny lies in their own hands, but it will take courage and strong hearts to see it through to the end.

And here is MadHamster's review:

I thought I’d be a good girl and offer to review this title as the author lives locally to my work – in a public library. So I went into the reading of The Chieftain’s Curse with a sense of trepidation: what if I don’t like it? Not only will I have to review a book I don’t like, I wouldn’t be able to genuinely sell a local offering.

Fortunately, that didn’t happen.         

Set fifteen years after the Battle of Hastings and during the reign of Malcolm Canmore (MacBeth’s Malcolm, and – minus a brief hiccup, as it were – successor), The Chieftain’s Curse is a braw, bonny medieval Scottish romance.

Secrets abound in Cragenlaw, home of Euan McArthur, the eponymous chieftain. Sometimes you want to shake people to either (a) tell their damn secret or (b) figure out the giant secret staring them in the face.

Morag’s secret is pretty obvious to the reader from the beginning, so the rest of the book is spent waiting for Euan to get it – and Morag to explain her reasons for keeping it. (I’m still not entirely sure I’ve figured that bit out.)

Euan has honour and loyalty, so hasn’t cheated on his wives, and so hasn’t had sex for a number of months. But the curse means he goes through wives, and has no heir. (Obviously MacBeth kept the witch thing quiet, otherwise even as an arrogant teen, Euan should have known not to piss off an old woman in the woods, right?) The barren Morag is perfect for his sexual needs. And there’s just something about her… Of course there’s lots of sex – Euan finally has someone he can ‘let himself go with’ without fear of consequence. All of that (probably) explains the indecently short time between the death of wife #3 (Astrid, in chapter two) and Euan making Morag his leman in chapter six (the day of Astrid’s funeral).

Morag’s pretty tough, but also nice. She is sometimes trapped by her memories of the past, and takes a bit to reconcile these with the current situation. Euan has a couple of different personas: that of The Chieftain; and that of Euan. Balancing the two creates some of the clashes with Morag. Euan wants Morag, but The Chieftain has to have an heir. On the whole, the secondary characters are pretty lightly drawn, more plot devices than characters, only Rob (Morag’s relative) and Nhaimeth (Astrid’s fool) stand out.

There are battles and death scenes (though I’m not convinced any sort of warrior would use his battleaxe to chop up a downed tree). There’s even a visit to the royal court, and a nicely done nod to the queen’s Christian faith (she was later canonised). (The fluidity of religious belief at the time is referred to often – Christianity is only one option, and that a recent one.)

There is treachery and intrigue. And it’s all wrapped up nicely by the end.

This book is available from Goodreads | Amazon | BN | Kobo | All Romance eBooks

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    Moose says:

    Trigger warning (for both the book and this comment): there is violent racial imagery.

    Also, spoiler warning.

    This book would have been otherwise okay, but it was a complete wallbanger for me because the villain is black and gay. Yay, a medieval book that admits there’s black people in England! Too bad the only black character in the book is a villain in an off-the-charts evil way. He’s gay, and therefore has unnatural sex, so of course he tried to screw the heroine’s underage son, because when you’re black and gay and completely Other in medieval England, of course you feel free to be as openly evil as you want to the grandson of the laird of the castle. It felt so completely at odds with the way that people who were actually different would have behaved that I could not get my head around it.

    In addition, I felt like the fact that the villain was black and gay and a terrible person was shoved constantly in my face—so much so that even the other villains hated him. We had things like:

    “God’s blood, what do I care for a Moor, a black man, give me back my son.”

    Housden, Frances (2013-02-01). The Chieftain’s Curse (Kindle Location 4299).

    And then there’s the fact that when he’s killed, the only black man in the book had his body hung up on a gibbet as a warning to the enemies. I recognize the author is not American and might not understand the historical implications that this kind of scene would have, but I think this book needs a serious trigger warning. I can’t call to mind an image of a bunch of white people stringing up the dead body of a black man and hanging it by the neck without wanting to vomit.

    I’m supposed to cheer this?

    No. No. HELL NO.

    Yes, I am bringing my modern views into medieval times. But I can’t help that. This book was published in 2013, after blacks were killed and hung by the KKK as a warning to other blacks—not to vote, not to seek power, not to seek redress, not to talk to white women, not to complain about their children being raped, you name it—and I can’t avoid that, and I can’t cheer for fiction that shows me that same image and expects me not to attach all the other baggage I have to it.

    I have to hope the (non-American) author was unaware that this kind of thing happened. If she was aware—and nonetheless tried to write a scene designed to allow a modern audience to cheer for a lynching—I have no forgiveness for her.

    Note that I’m not trying to say the author is a racist—how would I know? I really don’t care about the author’s intent in writing this book. It’s not relevant. The imagery and language in this book, and the author’s decision to make the black gay character so irredeemably awful that you’re supposed to cheer for him to have his dead body strung up and hung on a gibbet for all to see, left me feeling sick to my stomach. It destroyed any happiness I got from the romance. If similar things make you feel sick, don’t read this one.

    If the villain had been a straight, white man, this book would have been a B read. As it was, it so tainted my read that I can’t grade it higher than an F minus.

  2. 2
    Melissa says:


    Thank you for your additional comments. I am not particularly inclined to read Scottish/Highlander books, but the common thread with Shakespeare’s MacBeth captured my attention. Now knowing about the villain, I will avoid this book.

    No disrespect meant towards the reviewer of this book.

  3. 3
    Karin says:

    I always have trouble figuring out how to pronounce the names in Scottish/Irish stories. So how do you say “Euan”?

  4. 4
    Elinor Aspen says:

    “(The fluidity of religious belief at the time is referred to often – Christianity is only one option, and that a recent one.)”

    Scotland had been converted to Christianity by the end of the tenth century, so to present Christianity as just one option in the 1080s is very anachronistic. Not only would all of the Scottish characters have been Christian, but so would their parents and grandparents. There were different varieties of Christianity that may have survived in some areas, but there is no convincing evidence that paganism was still openly practiced in Scotland in the late 11th century.

    The reference to witch-hunting in Spain is probably inspired by the Spanish Inquisition, which others have already pointed out happened hundreds of years later. Shakespeare is later still, and his inclusion of witches in the Scottish play is another anachronism that should not be used as historical research.

    I rarely read medieval romances anymore, because so many authors are sloppy with their research, and it makes it too difficult for me to suspend my disbelief. I’m also stunned that romance authors are still using the old trope of making gay characters into villains and/or psychopaths. Does Frances Housden not have an agent or editor who will tell her that, at least in the American market, most of her potential readers find that sort of bigotry to be offensive nowadays?

  5. 5
    AR says:

    @ Elinor Aspen
    For what it’s worth, Escape is an Australia-based publisher, so presumably her editor, and perhaps her agent, are also non-American and not thinking specifically about the American market.

    That said, one would hope the crazy gay villain is a such a tired, offensive trope that it would be unacceptable in any market. And yet, the RITA judges, most of whom are likely American, were so unfazed by it that they rated the book highly enough to be a finalist for best historical romance of the year. And here we are.

  6. 6
    SB Sarah says:

    @AR & Elinor:

    That said, one would hope the crazy gay villain is a such a tired, offensive trope that it would be unacceptable in any market. And yet, the RITA judges, most of whom are likely American, were so unfazed by it that they rated the book highly enough to be a finalist for best historical romance of the year. And here we are.

    I have to admit, I’m really surprised (in a disappointed sense) by that part, too.


  7. 7
    Rebecca says:

    Re: the gay villain trope being offensive, I have the awful feeling it might have slid by BECAUSE everyone was so delighted about a person of color in a medieval romance. “Oh look, we have a North African character. We’re DIVERSE. Let’s pat ourselves on the back about giving the villain some kind of new depth.”

    Because having a nonwhite, non Christian man described as a predatory sexual deviant is some kind of edgy stereotype breaking depiction.[sarcasm]

    Still, as AR says, it was nominated.

  8. 8
    Phyllis Laatsch says:

    And so many people LOOOOVEEEEEE Outlander. I didn’t. For many reasons, but also because the bad guy is Evil Gay Guy.

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