The Virgin Spring

The Mackintosh Bride
by Debra Lee Brown
(Harlequin Historical, $4.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-373-29176-0
Set in the late twelfth century, the story begins when an eight-year-old girl seeks her twelve-year-old playmate, Iain Mackintosh, in their secret place. His father has been killed, and questions have been raised whether it was murder or retribution. They know they will be parting. The girl fixes a love knot of her hair and a scrap of his plaid. Iain gives her the dirk that killed his father for safekeeping. He vows he will avenge his father’s death by killing every last member of the Grant clan. He never learns the girl’s name.

Eleven years later Alena Todd, the girl in the earlier segment, is summoned by the clan leader, Reynold Grant. Alena has been raised by the Grant stablemaster and his wife; she has a rare gift with horses and is a skillful rider. Alena does not know that she is in fact the daughter and heiress of a French noblewomen. Reynold intends to marry her to increase his wealth and influence.

Alena is stunned by the unexpected announcement. She defends herself against Reynold’s advances and flees on horseback. (She’s forever leaping on horseback and taking off.) Pursued by a force of Grant fighters, she is intercepted by a group of Mackintosh clansmen led by Iain. They aid her escape from the Grants, but Alena refuses to explain the reasons behind her flight. Alena knows Iain for her childhood friend, but he fails to recognize her.

The group returns to the Davidson fortress where Iain has spent the past eleven years among his mother’s people. He knows, however, it is time to avenge his father’s death and assume his rightful place as the clan laird. In order to do this, he is trying to resurrect his father’s efforts to forge a coalition among several smaller clans.

But intermixed with his political determination is his strong attraction to the beautiful, spirited Alena. She begins working the most difficult horses in the Davidson stables and inspires great admiration from Iain’s brothers and others. He still has the love knot and remembers his promise to find the child he once knew but doesn’t associate the girl with Alena. She continues to withhold information that might clear up the confusion.

As the date for Alena’s marriage to Reynold approaches, so does the final confrontation between Iain and the Grants.

This review is posted in the “Historicals” section of TRR. That’s rather misleading because this book is most unhistorical. Anachronisms abound. Readers who were hoping for overtones of Mel Gibson as William Wallace (who lived a century later) will wonder if they wandered into the wrong era. The story includes tartans, Arabian and Clydesdale horses, all centuries before their development or use in the British Isles. Even the Scottish clans as we know them did not begin to develop until the 13th century. Nevertheless, the hero and the villain are able to assemble thousands (that’s right: thousands) of trained fighting men from their clans ready to do battle in classic English knightly style. Furthermore, the dialogue is a mixture of Scottish dialect with “dinna”, “willna”, and “laird” along with modern English expressions such as “I’ll be damned” and “let’s do it”.

Aye, Scotland’s a verra fine place with braw lads and bonny lassies, but it wasn’t like this in the twelfth century. Or any other time.

The plot is primarily based on the Big Misunderstanding from the very first scene where the two have been playing for some time but the boy still does not know the girl’s name. (Does it seem likely that a twelve-year-old boy would be playing with an eight-year-old girl on a regular basis? She also seems remarkably knowledgeable about current events considering her young age.) When they meet again, she knows him but not vice versa. Also she’s in possession of all of the facts and deliberately conceals them from him. And what’s her reason? Because of her connection to the Grants that she fears may anger him and she wants to pick the right time. I’d be more concerned that he’d be even angrier when the truth finally came out.

But Iain is not completely blameless. Whenever someone starts to tell him something that might clear up some of the mystery, he cuts them off or jumps to some unrelated conclusion. This couple is definitely suffering from a failure to communicate.

I’ve never been a fan of the Big Misunderstanding plot device, and this book has reinforced my opinion. Most of the conflict could have been avoided if Alena had been forthcoming about her identity as well as the reason behind her flight from Reynold. I never liked Alena much because I felt Iain deserved better treatment than what she was giving him. Yes, they’re strongly physically attracted, but what kind of relationship is it that is based on lies and deception?

She’s also one of those headstrong, impulsive heroines I deplore. She knows better than everyone else and refuses to consider things from another perspective. When the Other Woman shows up to solidify the new clan alliance, we’re supposed to believe she’s a bad alternative to the lovely Alena, but I felt that either way Iain was getting screwed. Not the best sentiment for a successful romance.

Although set before the time of the author’s previous books, The Virgin Spring and Ice Maiden, some of the characters in those books make an appearance in this one, but it stands well alone and does not require knowledge from the earlier stories. Readers of those two books may be interested in checking out his one, but it is likely to disappoint those who enjoy historical romances with a realistic feeling of the time period.

--Lesley Dunlap

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