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The Scotsman by Juliana Garnett
(Bantam, $5.99, R) ISBN 0-553-57627-5
****
The Scotsman is a medieval romance set around the events leading up to Robert the Bruce's historic victory at the Battle of Bannockburn. It is a fairly complex story, with a tendency toward uneven pacing, but it is anything but dull.

Alexander Fraser has lost his younger brother to the Earl of Warfield after a vicious battle with the English near the Scottish border. Not only has young Jamie been taken hostage, but Adam de Brus, cousin to Robert, is with him. Alex must find a way to ransom his young brother back before King Edward Longshanks executes him.

Fortune smiles on Alex when he happens upon Lady Catherine, daughter of the earl, as she is contemplating her unhappy future in a forest near her home. Catherine is a pawn in her father's household. His insistence that she marry for political advantage is abhorrent to her, yet the only support she finds in her own home is from her adored brother, Nicholas. When a savage-looking Scot appears out of nowhere and abducts her, Catherine fights him tooth and claw. To no avail, as it turn out. She is taken forcibly to Castle Rock, Alex's forbidding home in the Scottish Border country.

Alex has little use for this woman, but she commands his unwilling respect with her bravery and willingness to stand up to him. At this point, the author could have made a serious mis-step, but she wisely chose to make Catherine defiant without being stupid enough to risk her safety. As Catherine's father delays and refuses to return his two hostages, Catherine is forced to stay at Castle Rock, and eventually she and Alex become lovers. The outcome of their relationship depends largely upon the outcome of the battles to come.

Juliana Garnett travels a well-worn path in her basic plot. Hostage falls in love with her captor we've all read it before. What saves this book from mediocrity, though, is the intelligent use of historical detail. In some places it threatens to overshadow the story. Readers who are unfamiliar with the history of Scotland in the early 1300's and wish to know more about the struggle for succession will get a history lesson here. If reading about events of the past bores you, you may wonder at the four-heart recommendation. Take it with a grain of salt.

However, this reader enjoyed it very much and didn't find the history to be intrusive, but rather it enriched the story. The characters were well-drawn, and while I didn't feel a deep emotional connection to either of them (probably the result of a nagging "This story seems very familiar" feeling) they were interesting and intelligent. The author did a fine job of presenting two people caught in a web of events over which they have little control. Their decision to love comes across as all the more extraordinary.

The Scotsman deserves a good look by fans of historical romance, especially medievals.

--Cathy Sova


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