Pandora's Box

Lord of the Isles

Amanda Scott
2005, Medieval Romance (1370s Scotland)
Warner, $6.50, 400 pages, Amazon ASIN 0446614610
Part of a series

Grade: N/A
Sensuality: N/A

In this month's Pandora we look a Lord of the Isles, a Medieval Scottish romance. Hector Maclean takes one look at Lady Mariota Macleod and falls like a ton of bricks. He offers for her on the spot, but Mariota's father is a susperstitious man who insists that his older daughter, Cristina, marry before any of the younger ones. Hector persists in his pursuit of Mariota, and her father leads him to believe he has acquiesced - but he tricks Hector at the wedding and switches brides. Cristina is uncomfortable with her father's trickery, but feels she has no choice. Amidst political intrigue, Cristina and Hector must decide if they will make their marriage a real one.

Blythe:   I'd been looking forward to reading Lord of the Isles. Scott is an author who I've enjoyed in the past, but I never seem to keep up with her books; I don't think I've read her in years. Now I am wondering what took me so long. I wouldn't say that I just love her books, but I find them historically accurate and interesting. This book certainly fit that mold for me.

Linda, if I'm not mistaken, you've read Scott before too, right?

Linda:   Yes, I really enjoyed the magic and fantasy of her Secret Clan books. And I liked LOTI once I got into the groove of the Scottish dialect. That wasn't hard, though, because I found the characters so likable and the story so compelling.

Blythe:   The dialect didn't bother me. It seemed pretty natural - the only time I notice dialect is when it's bad. You know, those books where the writer has everyone speak normally for pages at a time, and then seems to remember, "Oh yeah...we're in Scotland!" and throws in a "lass" or something. Well, Scott doesn't do that. And I found the story compelling. I liked the political intrigue, and I grew to like the hero, Hector, as well. I had to warm up to him, though.

Linda:   Hector seemed a bit shallow at first - wanting to marry Cristina's beautiful sister Mariota on sight made him seem a bit dim. But, it didn't take Hector long to figure out Cristina's worth and realize that he had married the right sister after all.

I always felt sorry for Leah after Jacob was tricked and then was given Rachel for his second wife, so I loved the "biblical" switch of these brides. But Cristina was very likable from the beginning and grew emotionally throughout the story. And Mariota is a divine semi-villainess, and not as bird witted as she at first seems.

Blythe:   Yeah, I kind of thought Leah got a sucky deal, and I think Cristina gets one too—at first. It does take Hector some time to figure out that he was lucky the brides were switched. Boy, did he ever dodge a bullet. He did intend to pursue an annulment, and he held to that course for quite some time. Longer, I think, than he should have. However, once he came to his senses I quite liked him.

I also found Cristina to be an interesting heroine. She reminded me a lot of Jane Bennett from Pride and Prejudice, though the obvious difference is that Jane is supposed to be the very attractive sister, and in this case the beautiful one is Mariota. However, Cristina's noble, self-sacrificing nature is very Jane-esque. And when she kept blaming herself for everything, I kept thinking of the saying from Pemberley: "I blame Jane - and I'm sure she blames herself." Interestingly, Cristina does grow and change, and I believe it is Hector who points out that some of her behavior, like taking responsibility for others' actions, is prideful.

Linda:   Yes, like many heroes and heroines in our romance books, Cristina is over-responsible (perhaps even a trifle controlling) and takes the blame for others' actions. Her motives are good and her family would have been lost without her, but takes her responsibilities a step too far - with the encouragement of her father and Mariota, who are only too happy to blame her for everything. For me, it is Cristina's emotional growth, with Hector's help, that made this book something very special.

Blythe:   I think it also works because we get to see some of her anger at the way she is being treated. A lot of heroines seem to almost walk on water or sing to the Disney animals in the forest. Their extreme goodness doesn't work as well because they are too perfect. At times, I did get frustrated with Cristina, especially at the end. She reacts to something that she should have ignored, resulting in a huge and dangerous confrontation.

Linda:   Yes, her racing off bordered on TSTL behavior and what saved this scene was the intrepid 12-year-old Isobel racing to the rescue. I am really looking forward to Isobel's story (3rd in the series) as she has such wonderful insights into people and says exactly what she thinks. My kind of heroine.

I have not read Highland Princess, which precedes LOTI, but I am so intrigued by Hector's brother Lachlan and his wife Mairi that I am going to have to get it. There are some intriguing clues as to what went on in their "unusual" courtship that it sounds as if I have missed a good read.

Blythe:   Oh, I didn't notice that Isobel's story was next. I liked her too, and she did seem to have more sense than the heroine. Thank God, or Cristina probably wouldn't have survived the book. I did feel a little lost at times because I hadn't read the first book. I am going to have to hunt that one down. For the most part, Scott does a good job of revealing the backstory, but I still would have liked to know more about Mairi and Lachlan.

And here's a question for you: Why on earth was this book called Lord of the Isles? Hector isn't the Lord of the Isles...as I understand it the "Lord" is Lachlan's father-in-law. Right?

Linda:   I wondered about the title, too. It seems unrelated to Hector and Cristina completely. It does have a romantic sound to it though, LOL.

I peeked at the excerpt from Lady's Choice that was in the back of our arc's, it features a 19-year-old Isobel. I think that Scott generally walked a fine line well; enough backstory to fill in those who hadn't read the first story, but not so much that you bore those who have read it. In this case, enough detail was given that I was able to keep up with this story; but also was intrigued enough to hunt up the first book.

Blythe:   That was my feeling about it as well.

I guess what worked best for me was that Scott clearly did her research. Not many romances have a suggested reading list at the end. Scott cares about accuracy, and the series is at least partly based on actual people and events. This isn't history-lite at all, which is quite a pleasure.

I think the reason that I was able to tolerate some of the hero's loutish behavior was that he too fit with the times. I find that it's difficult for authors to fashion a hero who appeals to our modern sensibilities (like tenderness and respect for women) and still seems like a man of the times. I know I can get pretty picky about this, because I don't like my heroes so realistic that they aren't heroic. I think the fact that Hector starts out as a lout and then changes is what saves him. Cristina's father simply starts out as a lout and stays that way.

Linda:   Yes, her father is a piece of work indeed. Especially when it is clear that he has dominated his children with beatings and brute force. I also felt sorry for Mariota when she related that her father said it was her fault her mother had died. His logic was that if she had been a boy, he would have quit having children and her mother wouldn't have died in childbirth with daughter number nine. This was such twisted logic, but it was obvious that at times it was a burden to Mariota.

I thought Scott's portrayal of Mariota was amazing, and not drawn with the broad strokes that usually accompany this type of shallow character. Mariota was complex in her own way and completely focused on the goal of getting what she wanted, without any thought of consequences to anyone. Her ability to change stories midstream and cast blame on everyone but herself was amazing. I came to realize that Mariota seemed to believe completely whatever version of the "truth" she was telling at the moment.

Blythe:   I think Mariota is supposed to be a classic sociopath. Not that they would have known to call her that then.

Linda:   Yes, sociopath would be the word for her now; but Cristina, Isobel and their aunt were well aware there was "something wrong" with Mariota and were actually afraid of what she might do if thwarted. Between Mariota and her father, the rest of the family really lived under a reign of terror.

Hector, while definitely a man of his times, was not a brute and was able to deal well with a woman who had a mind of her own. I think knowing Mairi and how happy Lachlan was with her probably helped Hector accept Cristina's capability and intelligence.

I loved Mairi's friendship with Cristina - these were two strong-minded ladies and their friendship gave us good insight into both of their characters. In fact, I thought all of the secondary characters were well done. Also, the historical details of the period and the political tensions provide a good backdrop for this story, but never overwhelm the romantic story of Hector and Cristina.

Blythe:   When I read Scott in the past, I felt that her books were almost more historical fiction with a little romance on the side. I don't know whether she has added more romance over time, or if I just had different expectations going into this. Either way, I found that this book had a different "flavor" from most historical romances, and it worked well for me. Not a perfect read, but an interesting and worthwhile one.

Linda:   I found the story compelling, the historical detail fascinating and the romance aspect well done. I really cared about Hector and Cristina and felt like their happily-ever-after was both believable and well earned.

Blythe:   I'd agree with that.

Next month we have something a little different—a Diana Palmer reissue. It's The Hart Brothers: Simon and Callaghan I know you're a Palmer fan, but I've never read her. So this should be fun to watch.

Linda:   You are in for a real treat next month—LOL. Palmer is my guiltiest of guilty pleasures and no one in romance writes better grovel then she does, not to mention alpha-macho-jackass heroes. I have read virtually all of Palmer's backlist and think that the two Hart brothers stories are a nice representation of her craft . Happy reading.

Blythe:   Happy reading, and see you next month.

--Blythe Barnhill and Linda Hurst, with assistance from Sandi Morris, for

-- Pandora's Box

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