Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Stone Maiden by Susan King

Book Description:
As the leader of her late-12th-century Highland clan, which has been decimated by war and illness since her father's death, Alainna MacLaren has no choice but to abide by the legend of the Stone Maiden in order to save her Scottish clan from oblivion: she must wed a man willing to adopt her clan name. Since each clan is fiercely protective of the lineage of its proud name, Alainna's mission seems futile. Sebastien de Bret, a Norman knight, who was a nameless infant foundling raised by monks, agrees to protect Alainna's clan in exchange for the land the king will give him. He will even marry Alainna in accord with the king's wishes, but he refuses to relinquish the name he has struggled so hard to establish for himself. King, whose research into the territory and time period is evident, strongly draws readers into the plot and her characters' lives. -- Publishers Weekly

First in the Maiden Trilogy, as Scottish medieval romances go this was a good story, but not your typical alpha male warrior with bulging muscles and caveman mentality à la Julie Garwood.  This is the tale of two strong and independent people that are thrown together against their will.  Spiritually, they're meant for each other and they can't evade the love that naturally occurs as they become closer and closer, yet they're torn because they must be true to their family heritage.  The romance has a slow, steady build up between the two. Sweet and poignant, but also a little bit dull.

Alainna is near her wit's end.  Now chief of the MacLaren's, a dying clan in the Scottish Highlands, she needs help.  With most of the MacLaren men killed due to the ongoing feud with the neighboring clan that is bent on wiping hers out, she prays for assistance from the "stone maiden", a stone idol whose legend has protected her clan for centuries.  Yet, according to legend, it's magic will end soon. Alainna has a mystical vision of a golden warrior that comes to help her.  Little does she know her vision will come true, only she doesn't recognize it when it does.

Desperate, she goes to the King of Scotland to ask for assistance.  His idea of assistance is to marry her off to one of his Norman knights, Sebastien de Bret who hails from Breton.  Sebastien is less than enthusiastic at the idea of marrying Alainna, not because he is not attracted to her (he is) but he has a young son he needs to return to in Breton.  A widower, Sebastien is only too well aware of his own orphaned childhood and wants to be a father to his boy - and not waste his time calming clannish feuds in the wilds of Scotland.  He has received word from the monks who care for his son that their monastery has burned down and he needs to get to his son soon - but the king wants him to marry Alainna and stay in Scotland until he can subdue the neighboring clans that threaten the MacLarens.  What can he do?

Obeying the king, he goes to Alainna and they have an uneasy courtship.  She insists that if he marries her, he takes on the name of MacLaren, or else her clan will die out. This is of the utmost importance to her.  She cannot let her clan end with her.  Sebastien won't agree and this is the huge obstacle that they must face no matter how much they are attracted to one another.  As they battle with their consciences over what is right and wrong, Sebastien's yearning for family and Alainna grows.  Her clan becomes a family to him, yet he still is duty bound to see that his son carries on his name - he cannot give it up for her!  They go back and forth on this issue interminably, there are some passionate kisses, soulful looks and a handfasting that takes place, but both are miserable over the conundrum each must face.   Can their love for one another trump their familial duty?

The gradual realization of love between the hero and heroine was bittersweet in this romance for both were so torn.  At times I was frustrated and found their constant "push me pull you" relationship tedious.  I just wanted to say "Get over it, one of you give in!"  They couldn't be completely happy and at times I wondered how this was all going to wind up, there was no easy answer to their problem.  But, as in all romances, they do get their happily ever after ending which was gratifying to read about after all the aggravation they went through to get to it.

There are some exciting battle scenes, the usual villainous neighboring clan leader that has his eye on Alainna, and Sebastien was the epitome of the noble, shining, honorable hero who comes to her rescue.  I did scratch my head over why it took Alainna so long to realize he was the man in her vision though.  I also had a hard time with Sebastien and his insistence of keeping his own name - it wasn't really his father's name, it was a made up name, so why not take on the name of MacLaren?  It certainly would have made things a lot easier on them all!  Although I had a hard time with the stubbornness of the hero and heroine, their characters were well drawn and I knew where they were coming from and what their motivation was.  I really felt sorry for both of them, but I can't say that I was riveted to the story.  I read on, but it just didn't grab me.  I rolled my eyes alot and huffed and puffed over what seemed so obvious to me.

The side story of a fugitive clansman returned from Ireland that Alainna was hiding from Sebastien was interesting, though I wish there had been more to that part of the story.  Sebastien was supposed to capture him and bring him back to the King.  Still, I was glad that when the truth was ultimately revealed to Sebastien about her deception, he didn't turn all emo on her!  It would have been one more thing to pile onto their woes!

All in all, not a bad story, but there was almost no humor or playfulness in this romance, which is key to me.   My favorite romances always have that element.   Just this long suffering problem they had to overcome.  They had their tender moments together, but not much passion, I felt like this family issue was an albatross hanging around their neck.  If this is your cup of tea, familial anguish and honor vs. love, then you'll like this romance.  I did enjoy if for the most part, but I will not continue with the trilogy.



Amy C said...

Hi Julie,

I read this one years ago, maybe 5 or so. It was actually one of the first ones I read set in Scotland. Way back when I didn't know any romance authors, only htat I liked the Scottish set historical romances from what few I had read at the time. I enjoyed it and your review would have coincided with my thoughts at the time I read it. I liked it well enough.

Julie at Outlandish Dreaming said...

Hi Amy! *waving*

I'm glad I finally read it, but I expected it to be better, I guess I'm just to more action and romance now, it just seemed plodding and it took forever for it to move forward! It was recommended to me ages ago, hence why I added it to my TBR challenge this year. Another one crossed off the list!

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