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 Phyllis Laatsch. 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 Phyllis Laatsch's review:

Things I Googled about this book: History of kilts and plaids, gay marriage in New Zealand, 11th century Spain, and Moors (and Moors in 11th century Spain).

Things I really enjoyed about this book:

The heroine is strong and smart. Even when she has weak moments, she pulls herself together.

There is a lot of sex, mainly emotionally satisfying, though a bit much after a while.

The hero, Euan, is sometimes cruel because his curse means his wife and baby die at birth (he has buried three wives and their babies) and yet he needs an heir. We see his internal conflict and he hates being cruel. It doesn't excuse the stuff he says sometimes, but as clan leader, he has certain responsibilities.

It’s not a spoiler to say that this is a Secret Baby story, though when an 11th century Scotland teen mom has a Baby Daddy who's an enemy warrior she rescued after a battle, she has good reason to keep it quiet. Finally, a secret baby that can be justified! (Though the heroine should have told the Baby Daddy wayyyyy sooner. Like the day she arrived. Okay, maybe a few days later, since that was the day Euan’s wife died in childbirth.)

Things that bugged me:

The first fifth of the book was slow, with everyone hinting at deep, dark secrets which are mostly revealed to the reader in the first quarter of the book. Even the random mercenary guy is given so much backstory when he’s first mentioned that it’s obvious he’s going to be important, though his secret isn’t revealed until almost the end.

The son, while a bit old to be a plot moppet, lacks depth. He’s a really good kid. Too good.

It’s not clear from Googling if they wrapped themselves in huge swathes of plaid at this point in history or if that was later.

There was a mention that in Spain, the church was tracking down witches. Was there a “Spain” at the time? Wasn’t it controlled by the Moors? Wasn’t the Inquisition more 15th century?

Misuse of words: Example: “Quickening” is when the mother can first feel the baby in her womb, not when she goes into labor. That would be “confinement.”

Also: overuse of Scots words to add flavor in places where they made it more confusing.

The heroine has just spent a couple of months walking across all of Scotland, barely sleeping and not eating enough, so she’s described as gaunt and lacking curves. And yet her boobies are still big and perky. Sorry, but those deflate when you lose weight.

If this were all I had to say, this would be a mid-level B.


THE THING THAT REALLY BUGGED ME: The big, bad brother who is out to get the heroine is gay. His lover/assistant is black (and no one mentions how the Moor got to a Nowheresville English barony bordering Scotland) and gay and insane. This is a problem I see too often, especially in historicals. Did they all snap because of hetero-normative pressure and want to torture straight people for no reason? Ditto the non-whites?

I can sometimes shrug it off if the story is good enough, but SERIOUSLY, people. If you’re going to have an evil gay character, make sure there are good gay characters, too. If you’re going to toss just one black person into a story, don’t make him a sociopath.

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Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    Moose says:

    Phyllis, I left a comment on the other review saying almost the exact same thing before I saw your review. I completely agree with you about the villain(s) in this book.

  2. 2
    Rebecca says:

    @Phyllis – To answer your question: you’re right, “Spain” didn’t exist until the fifteenth century, and while there was an inquisition in Aragon and Catalunya for a century before that, it wasn’t particularly a player.  If we’re talking late eleventh century (which I gather from the other review), we’re in the period of the “taifas” in the Iberian peninsula, when there are about five different petty kings in Andalucia (started with a higher number but Seville had some aggressive expansion policies), and about an equal number of Christian kingdoms in the north: Asturias/Leon, Castile, Navarre, Aragon, and the county of Barcelona.

    In terms of Moors, sure, they traveled, but I’m not sure why they’d head for nowheresville Scotland.  (There are records of Iberians in the English court, though not many.)  It made more sense to trade with the Mediterranean, where the money was.

    @Moose – I just read your comment on the other review and felt my brain explode a little.  The author actually wrote a lynching scene?!!??  In a romance?!!???  I just…that’s….ok, deep breath.  Putting that together with the stuff about the character being a Moor….she wrote her villain as a GAY BLACK MUSLIM.  The trifecta.  Wow.

  3. 3

    and no one mentions how the Moor got to a Nowheresville English barony bordering Scotland

    There were POC all over Europe throughout history.  Medieval POC is a great blog that busts the myth that everyone who wasn’t white stayed far away: http://medievalpoc.tumblr.com/

  4. 4
    Moose says:

    @Rebecca: to be perfectly clear, the villain is killed by other causes and then string up on a gibbet. This is to my mind lynching.

  5. 5
    Em says:

    May I ask why you googled NZ marriage equality? :D

  6. 6
    Shannon says:

    Moor is a rather loose term for a number of groups.  Shakespeare intended it to mean black.  But many of the Moors were of Arabic origin.  And those Arabs tended to make a distinction between those in sub-Saharan Africa and those in North Africa.  To make it even more complex, there were some other socio-linguistic groups in North Africa, the most prominent of which is the Tuaregs.  Race and language used to identify the other as OTHER in so many cultures.

    As far as the Moors go, some were from a sea faring “empires” (principalities more likely).  Some of the Black Irish, as some of my ancestors, have Arabic names like Meagher or Mahr or Maher.  MaHER means he who is a hard worker in Arabic and the meaning is said to be similar in Irish.  MAHr is Arabic for dowry.  So there is a circumstantial case for Moors showing up in Ireland.  I suppose it would be possible they sailed from North Africa, through Gibralter and along the “Spanish” / “French” coast and on to England or Scotland.  I’m pretty sure it was unusual but not impossible.

  7. 7

    Oh, I believe that there are POC all over, but as I said, there is no mention of how this ONE guy ended up here (they don’t even to bother to hint that he and the evil brother met somewhere else and moved in together, just that he was there. Ta-da.) AND he’s the ONLY POC in the entire book.

    And what “Moose” said here and in the comments on the other review.

    I Googled NZ marriage equality because the author is from NZ. Reading wayyyyy too much into it, but I’m guessing this book is a not-so-subtle reactionary stance. (I took too many English Lit classes, methinks).

    This is NOT the only book with the gays as the bad guys. I think the problem might be getting better these days, but I’ve read far too many books with the evil, crazy dude being gay. Between Evil Gay Guy and Slutty Ex, we rely way too much on 50’s “morality.”

  8. 8
    Phyllis Laatsch says:

    I forgot to mention that Evil Gay Guy was one of the reasons I disliked Gabaldon’s Outlander…

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