on August 29th 2017
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Lisa Berne’s Penhallow Dynasty series continues as a Highlander marries against his will—
and discovers he may have found the perfect bride
Alasdair Penhallow, laird of his clan and master of Castle Tadgh, is forced to end his carefree bachelorhood, thanks to an ancient decree that requires him to marry. But Alasdair’s search for a biddable wife comes to a screeching halt when Fate serves up Fiona Douglass. Prickly as a thistle, Fiona challenges him at every turn, rendering herself surprisingly irresistible. Her love would be a prize indeed . . . if Alasdair could accept it.
Fiona gave her heart once, and doesn’t plan to repeat that folly. Yet she finds herself drawn to Alasdair’s intelligence and strength, and the passion he incites goes well beyond her expectations for what’s only a marriage of expedience. Despite herself, she’s falling in love with her husband.
But there’s a high wall between them—and Fiona’s not sure it can ever be torn down.
Wondering where his shoes had gone, Alasdair looked down to see his wolfhound Cuilean at his feet. Intelligent dark eyes were looking up at him inquiringly, shaggy ears were pricked: a hint, Alasdair knew, that breakfast was long overdue. He reached down a hand to caress that rough head, and as he did so Cuilean sharply turned it, toward an archway leading off toward the kitchens.
Fervently did Alasdair hope it was a servant, bearing a refreshing tankard of ale (or even a silver pot filled to the brim with blisteringly hot coffee), but no, it was Dame Margery, quite possibly the oldest member of the clan, hunched over her gnarled stick and stumping into the Hall. Trailing behind was her little granddaughter Sheila, who viewed the dissolute scene before her with blasé indifference, her expression, distinguished by eyes which seemed to gaze in two different directions at once, seeming more focused on something immaterial and inward — and for that Alasdair could only be thankful, as uneasily he wondered if a seven-year-old really ought to be in the Great Hall at this particular moment.
As Dame Margery drew near, she noisily banged her stick on the marble floor, causing people nearby to stir, moan, rouse. She passed by Uncle Duff, insensate, draped sideways on a chair and his long beard dangling perpendicularly, and muttered audibly, “Ach, the old wastrel!” before turning her piercing and unblinking stare to Alasdair. Finally she stopped before the dais on which the two great chairs — one for the laird, one (long unoccupied) for his lady — stood. Her silence, Alasdair noticed, had a heavy, expectant, rather ominous sort of quality, and he groaned under his breath. He wasn’t in the mood for drama. Still, he was the laird, and one must be polite, so he cleared his throat and said:
“Good day to you, madam.”
“And to you, laird,” she answered with an awful, punctilious politeness. “May I tender my congratulations to you on your birthday.”
“I thank you.”
“I believe I am correct, laird, that as of yesterday you turned thirty-five?”
“Not thirty-four, laird?”
“Nay, thirty-five, madam.”
“Not married, are you, laird?”
Alasdair looked narrowly at Dame Margery. Had she gone soft in her aged head? Everyone knew he was unmarried and, in fact, happily so. But courteously he replied: “Nay, madam, I’m not.”
“Well then, laird, perhaps you are not aware of the ancient clan decree which dictates that any chieftain of Castle Tadgh who remains unmarried by his thirty-fifth birthday must immediately invite the eligible highborn maidens of the Eight Clans of Killaly to stay within the castle, and within thirty-five days choose one to be his bride?”
Dame Margery issued this disconcerting pronouncement in stentorian tones and with a single breath, leaving her gasping a little by the end. She breathed in deeply, then added sternly:
“The wedding to follow within thirty-five days.”
A sufficient number of people had woken up by now to create a stunned, openmouthed audience for Dame Margery, who seemed well satisfied by the effect of her words. Alasdair sat upright, jostling the black-haired lass who let out a choked snore but remained blissfully asleep. He stared balefully at her and then at Dame Margery as the unpleasant import of her proclamation sank in.
“And if I don’t obey?” he said, losing a little of his earlier politeness.
“Death to you, I fear,” the old crone replied with annoying promptitude. “Hanged and quartered, laird, and your head displayed in the courtyard as a warning to all who leave off their sacred duty to the clan.”
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~~Reviewed by Monique~~
Alasdair Penhallow was enjoying his careless, roguish, fun-filled life until one fine day – or rather, it had been fine until that moment – when he learned of a decree saying that the Chieftain, Alasdair himself, had to marry thirty five days after reaching his thirty-fifth birthday, which was now. Alasdair had no intention of obeying the ancient decree, but with the punishment if he doesn’t obey, being death, well, it doesn’t leave one much choice, does it? But his Uncle Duff MacDermott tells Alisdair that even with a wife, nothing needs to really change. Fiona Douglass was firmly on the shelf. Once she had thought she would be a bride, but her suitor, Logan Munro, chose her younger, prettier sister, and although Fiona never resented her sister, no man could ever compare to Logan. Fiona could settle for a decent man, someone who liked her for who she is, but her hopes have once again been thwarted when she is told that she is amongst four eligible candidates to marry Alasdair Penhallow. She doesn’t want to go, but if she doesn’t, it will literally be the death of her. However, Fiona is not worried, Alasdair won’t pick her anyway; and when Fiona sees her competition, she knows she is secure in her spinsterhood. Unfortunately, Fate has decided otherwise, and when a most unexpected event occurs, Fiona and Alasdair have no choice but to marry. Neither is pleased, not at all.
And if you think you’ve read it all before, read on. Lisa Berne gives the marriage of convenience trope clever, unforeseen, and fabulous twists: Alasdair and Fiona do not like each other, there is no combustible and immediate attraction, they loathe the situation, and they refuse to make the slightest effort to make the forced marriage work, and the wedding night is a complete disaster, and not a funny one either; I found it so refreshing, I almost applauded! Alasdair is sometimes unkind, aloof, Fiona is entirely unyielding and very independent; they could have been exceedingly unpleasant characters, yet they are not. Ms. Berne knows exactly where to draw the line because the dynamic between Alasdair and Fiona shifts several times, it all feels genuine, and it’s enthralling to watch them be, basically.
Fiona doesn’t suffer fools gladly, and the competition between the four brides-to-be was something to behold: the dialogues are absolutely splendid, and the barbs exchanged are at times vicious; always entertaining, and oftentimes quite funny. Lisa Berne’s prose is spectacular: lush and sumptuous, the dialogues are impeccable, the descriptions of Scotland are breathtaking, and the characterisations are so sharp, that I could visualise them clearly. One minor character, in particular, made a rather strong impression on me, Crannog Sutherlainn, and I wonder if we will encounter him again in future instalments, and I also loved little Sheila.
THE LAIRD TAKES A BRIDE is a rollercoaster of emotions: I laughed, I cried, I worried, I suffered for both characters, but mostly for Fiona, and just as Alasdair and Fiona seemed to have resolved their issues, well… one of them hasn’t. Lisa Berne has written a perfectly fabulous book, intelligent, unusual, and unique; THE LAIRD TAKES A BRIDE is not to be missed!
I voluntarily reviewed an advanced reader copy of this book.