by Laurin Wittig, historical (2004)
Berkley, $5.99, ISBN 0-425-19527-9
Laurin Wittig is often too obvious in her attempts at comedy in Charming The Shrew, but as per her last book, she has a lively voice that makes even the most contrived elements of her story work pretty well.
The shrew in question is Catriona MacLeod, a Scottish lass who has spent her entire life fighting with the men in her family that try to bully her into doing things their way. She is therefore known far and wide as the Shrew of Assynt. The Shrew may have to taste defeat though when her brother arranges for her to marry an unpleasant man (the man's nickname, Dogface, should be a hint as to how disagreeable he is). Catriona isn't going down without a fight, however. She'll run away, even if she has no idea where to go or how to go about doing it.
Tayg Munro is a former warrior who has decided to answer the call of pacifism. Actually, he's a warrior who survived the war against the English so he's feted as a hero. While feeling guilty for living while his brothers died in battle, he is also not keen on getting married. But as his father's only living heir, he has a responsibility to marry and procreate. Hoping to delay the plans for an arranged marriage a little longer, he decides to pose as a bard and pass on a message from his father to a neighboring clan, a clan that so happens will be Catriona's new family if her brother has his way. So what if he can't play anything except for drums? He'll be a wonderful bard. All you cynics will be eating your hats soon enough.
After delivering the message, he is asked to deliver yet another message, this time to the MacLeod. He assumes that it is a love letter from Dogface to the Shew of Assynt. When he bumps into Cat, fresh from struggling with a misbehaving horse after an epic journey through a snowstorm, he is charmed by her and is dismayed to realize that the Shrew is actually a beautiful hellion. (Yeah, yeah, whatever.) When both he and Cat realize that the "love letter" is actually a coded missive and Cat's brother, Broc, is plotting treachery against the Bruce with Dogface and the MacDonnells, Tayg holds Cat as hostage and takes her along as he rides to inform the king of this nefarious plot at once.
There are some obvious problems in this book, chiefly the author's mistaking Cat's shrewish and often unreasonable tirades and temper tantrums as something to tickle the reader pink. At least, this reader is not amused as much as she is annoyed by the heroine. It is also not amusing to see our hero and heroine fumbling at doing the things they have to do. When a woman who has no sense of direction runs straight into a blizzard, I don't laugh and go "That's so adorable!", I cheer for her painful and slow death instead.
Nonetheless, there is some decent chemistry between Cat and Tayg once the bickerings die down and they finally start acting sensibly for once. The story is well-paced and the writing is clean except for the half-hearted use of da, 'twas, and such, all of which stand out like sore thumbs considering the overall tone and sensibilities of this book is contemporary in nature.
There are some fun moments as well as cringe-inducing ones in Charming The Shrew. It isn't a radical departure from any of the typical Highland romance out there in terms of character and plot, but the author's lively voice makes this book an enjoyable type of ordinary.
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