The Laird
by Juliana Garnett, historical (2002)
Jove, $6.99, ISBN 0-515-13388-4


Juliana Garnett's The Laird won't be winning any awards for innovation. It is a stock Englishwoman kidnapped by Scottish dude story, and it faithfully follows the predictable path. But if there's one thing this author is good at, it's making her stories flow well. It's just too bad that for the most part, I find the romance a bit too unbelievable to follow.

I'm not too sure as well what the hero Robert Campbell is. On one hand, he has an impressive nickname, "The Devil's Cub" (Rob's father is the "Red Devil"). But on the other hand, I'm not too sure whether he's supposed to be a fallen hero, a hero who just wants peace over war, or something else. He is like a justicar of peace and a bloodthirsty warrior rolled into one, and I can't manage to reconcile these two extreme ends of him. His first appearance in this story sees him begging his father and his brothers not to go to fight for the Earl of Argyll, whom Bobby here perceives as a treacherous coward. Alas, it's not the Campbell way to back away from macho stuff, so they ignore Bobby. Daddy comes home with a hostage - a young heiress named Mairi - as well as Mairi's companion, the widow Judith Lindsay. Bobby's brothers never made it home.

Bobby doesn't believe that these two females are worth the lives of his brother, but at the same time, he wants to be fair to these females and not blame them for situations that they cannot control. This is pretty cool in that I am not subjected to sniping and bitter angry sex scenes, but at the same time, Bobby confuses me. Why does his father hate him so much? By the end of the book, I still don't really get a clear idea why.

Judith is better drawn, even if she is a bit on the stereotypical side. But one thing's for sure: she is not stupid. She knows how helpless she is in situations like this one, and she will do all she can to keep Mairi safe. When Bobby's father tries to have her killed, Bobby will have to help Judith escape.

I find the romance a bit hard to swallow: Bobby lusts after her just like that so soon after she arrives at the keep, and barely after the news of his brothers' deaths sink in. It is also a bit hard to believe that Bobby will choose to be understanding rather than be in grief over his brothers' deaths. The romance is already set in motion from the moment they meet, and those two rarely question their relationship - it's the "right" thing. But I want to know, how do they know it's a "right" thing?

There is very little here that will surprise anyone familiar with Scottish kidnap fantasies. But at the same time, this story is more action-paced that Ms Garnett's last few books, and the author manages to succeed in keeping her story moving smoothly. The last few chapters also have some nice emotional ring to them, a nice closure to an otherwise predictable but well-told story.

The Laird is entertaining armchair comfy material, well-written and all, and will be better if only the hero and the romance have been a little more well-developed.

Rating: 86


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