|Wed or dead - not exactly the easiest choice for a woman to make and
especially not if her potential bridegroom is her family's enemy.
Yet, when Robert the Bruce's forces capture Dunstaffnage Castle,
stronghold of the MacDougall clan, Lara of Lorne must decide whether
to marry Sebastien of Cleish or to die at his hand. She goes for the
former, believing this way she can protect the innocents in the castles.
Sebastien is as principled as they come. An illegitimate son of a
nobleman, he is a self-made soldier who owes his rise in the ranks to
his skill and his sense of personal honor. He may have to provide
bloodstained sheets to keep his oath to Robert the Bruce, but he goes
out of his way to make sure his forced union with Lara is as unlike
rape as possible given the circumstances. He realizes very quickly
that he would like nothing more than to found a real home and family
with his unwilling bride. And although he hopes to capture Lara's
love, he also understands her dilemma all too clearly: to give
herself to him would be to forsake herself and all she stands for.
But, aside from introducing her to sexual pleasures and telling her
what a good thing they could have as man and wife, his actions and
work are not aimed at convincing her why loyalty to him and the Bruce
is the way to go. Luckily for him, Lara's father and cousin are such
heartless villains, or my sympathies would have been as divided as hers.
Initially, Lara maintains her allegiance to her family and clan and
agrees to use her position in the castle to spy. But, as she spends
more time with her husband, her loyalties are increasingly torn. Her
conflicting emotions eventually turn into guilt, when she realizes
how her earlier betrayal endangers Sebastien and threatens his
position in Robert the Bruce's camp.
I fully sympathize with Lara's conflict, and I admire
her sense of honor. Which is perhaps I am so disappointed when she
does such stupid things as jumping into the sea to save her younger
brother. A noble gesture, to be sure - if only she knew how to swim.
Now, instead of one, there are two people to rescue. Perhaps this
episode is a forewarning of her subsequent misguided actions?
Because, although she has doubts about her cousin's good intentions,
she nevertheless delivers one of Sebastien's treasured possessions to
him. And later, when she realizes the long-run implications of her
double-dealing, she decides to resolve the problems herself instead
of turning to her husband. Independent, spirited and steadfastly
loyal? Looks more like naiveté, perhaps even stupidity to me. (To be
fair, Lara redeems herself in the end, but I would be revealing too
much if I were to explain how.)
Despite the high-pitched dramatic conflict, the novel
starts slowly. I had a hard time getting into it because I didn't
completely understand the historical background. (Sorry, but medieval
Scotland is not my forte.) Fortunately, things are clarified as we go
along without falling into the all too frequent error of indulging in
details more appropriate for a history manual. As I progressed
through the book, I had a harder time putting it down. While The Maid of Lorne doesn't milk its perturbing premise for all its worth, it is well written and engrossing and quite ideal for a rainy afternoon.