Lori McD's Reviews > Under the Highlander's Spell

Under the Highlander's Spell by Donna Fletcher
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3-3.5 stars

Once again, this book is a good read, just not a great read.... The 16th century characters and story suffer from a bad case of "modernism" in attitudes and phrases that are incongruous to the time period and do a disservice to the entire story. It's such a shame, too, as there's much to love about this book.

This is Artair Sinclare's story - 2nd of 4 brothers. (I just love stories about families - sisters or brothers!) Artair is the practical, pragmatic one. He's calm, cool, collected, and he has a rational approach to life. In the 1st book, when his elder brother Cavan was missing, and as the next son, Artair thought it wise for him to take a wife and bring an heir to the Sinclare clan. Just as his wedding ceremony to Honora was ending, Cavan enters the church; and to everyone's surprise, Artair discovered that he married Honora simply as Cavan's proxy. The wedding contract specified that Honora was to marry the next heir and laird of the Sinclares. But Artair hadn't lost his heart to Honora; he thought her a good woman, but he wasn't in love. So he didn't protest.

From the very beginning of this book, we see a slightly different Artair - one who rides into town and snatches a woman condemned as a witch from the stake. Of course, Artair deals with the townsfolk in a most rational way, talking them out of the burning and paying for the woman's freedom. It isn't until we learn that the woman, Zia, is a healer and the Sinclare's have learned that she might have tended to their youngest brother Ronan, who is still missing, that we understand his rush to free Zia.

Zia seems to be all that Artair is not. Passion rules her life, and it's that very passion and joy that get her into so much trouble. She's a skilled healer, trained by her grandmother, Bethane; when Zia comes to a village plagued by illness, she's usually able to save most of the lives there with her skills. So why is it that the villagers often decide that she must be a witch, when she's saving their lives? That's the mystery. And because she's also beautiful, the villagers think she bewitches the men. Ha!

Before Artair takes Zia from the stake, she bargains with him. She won't tell him how to find Ronan, but she'll take him to the last place that she knows he was seen. When Artair tries to get her to simply tell him and his warriors how to get there, Zia refuses, saying that it's a place with no direction and no name, and only she can take them there. Artair isn't sure whether she's leading them into a trap or not, and his men are somewhat afraid that Zia might really be a witch.

But it turns out that Zia is leading them back to her village, known simply as village Black - an out of the way place that no one would simply wander into. It's heavily guarded by unseen sentries, and no one is allowed to enter the village without the permission of Bethane, Zia's grandmother and acknowledged leader. Bethane offers sanctuary and protection to anyone who comes to village Black, and most come because they're in need of physical or mental healing. Many choose to stay and leave their old life behind, whether they were barbarians or victims. When Artair sees Bethane tending to a barbarian, one of Mordrec's - the man responsible for his father's death - he tries to angrily persuade Bethane to give the man to him and his men for execution. But Bethane and the village stand up to Artair and refuse.

Artair has never seen such a village. It's a place where everyone shares... everyone smiles... everyone takes turns tending to the needs of the others, including the sick and injured.

His amazement is also due to Zia and her grandmother, the likes of whom he's never met. But especially Zia. There's a strong attraction and connection between Artair and Zia, which on the surface, seems to be because they're complete opposites. Zia can't stand that Artair is so rational and reasonable about everything, including his ideas of love and marriage. Artair can't understand Zia's insistence that love and life are all about passion - passion that can't be defined in reasonable terms. But underneath, the two are very much alike; they both approach their life's work with calm, cool skill and won't give up until the job or duty is done.

When Zia is called as a healer to a village very near the one she was nearly burned as witch in, Artair insists that he go with her. And because the Sinclare name is so respected, he reasons with Zia that they must pretend to be man and wife; that way, the Sinclare name protects her, as few would come up against the strong clan with so many allies. Zia agrees to go along with this, mainly because it's a means to get her to the village. She doesn't fear for her own safety, believing that fate will do as it will; she is a healer and must use her skills when called upon.

So Artair and Zia go to the village as man and wife, even sharing a cottage and a bed. Of course, their attraction blooms into more, and Artair finds himself making passionate love to Zia more than once. He's fascinated by her. She's fascinated by him - by the way that he observes and absorbs, helping when he can. Artair makes sure that Zia eats and sleeps. And he's always near, patiently waiting for her. He doesn't intrude, interrupt, or demand. He simply is.

When a messenger from the village that cried "witch" arrives, demanding that this village turn Zia over to him, Artair intervenes. The messenger says that Zia will soon be condemned by the church, as his village sent for the church officials to put Zia on trial. Artair knows that he must get Zia to him home. And he's determined to marry her, so that he can show their marriage certificate to the bishop and Zia can officially come under Sinclare protection. But Zia refuses; she loves Artair, but she wants him to marry her for passion and love, not duty or safety. Silly girl! She can't see the forest for the trees anymore than Artair can.

When the bishop arrives at the Sinclare keep before the cleric who would marry them and predate the wedding papers, everyone is on edge, afraid that Zia will be taken away. But Bethane, invited to the wedding, tells Zia a tale of her mother and father - a father that Zia has never known - and a tale that might just save her life.
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While I see that Artair and Zia are falling in love... and Artair has every intention of marrying Zia, the idea that they'd almost casually fall into bed with one another is incongruous to that time. Having sex - taking Zia's maidenhead - IS the equivalent of marriage, even then. They could have simply hand-fasted and been done with it! Even the church in that time grudgingly acknowledged hand-fasting; at most, the bishop would have required them to marry in his presence for the church's blessing.

Zia is a free spirit, so I see that to her, sex was a way of expressing passion and love. She wouldn't see herself necessarily bound to Artair for life because she slept with him. But Artair wouldn't lightly enter into a full consummation with Zia until they were either hand-fasted or married. It simply wasn't done - it wasn't honorable. Yes, passion can override duty and honor, but anyone who knows anything about the time period knows how sacred taking a maidenhead was.

That combined with the modern vernacular and attitudes in general are simply a put-off. They spoil the beauty of these stories...

So why did I read all 4 books? I guess because I was caught in the characters and wanted to see what happened next, despite the somewhat predictable outcomes of the love stories. But... simply said, I hesitate to read other historical romances/fiction by this author because of her blatant disregard for the history and customs of the very people she's writing about.
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