Friday, October 14, 2016

Audiobook Review: Highland Chieftain by Hannah Howell

Series:     Murray #21
Pub. Date:Sept. 27, 2016
Publishers:Tantor Audio
Narrator:Angela Dawe
Length:352 pages
8 hrs 35 min

The Murray series has been around quite a long time, over fifteen years if I am remembering correctly. While I haven't read the whole series, I am a fan of Hannah Howell and do pick up one of her books occasionally when I'm in the mood for a lil' bit o' Scotland. This latest installment of the series surprised me a bit with darker tones than I remember reading from her other books.

Bethoc (Bay-thog) Mattheson, having grown up in an abusive household, is a meek and frightened mouse of a girl. She began taking care of the many younger children of her household after her mother's death, and it seems she has had to bear the heavy hand of her father for all of her life. Ker Mattheson is an abusive brute who has been bringing home boy children for years to work the fields on his land. Despite the fishy circumstances of the boys' appearance, Bethoc never questioned her father when he said they were now her brothers. My heart went out to Bethoc - she was certainly a pitiable heroine who had to deal with much strife in her short life. However she was just a little too beat down for me. Even when she doesn't have to worry about Ker Mattheson anymore, she rarely questions anything and never loses her temper - she just goes along with whatever the people around her tell her to do.

Sir Callum Macmillan was taken in by the Murray clan as a young boy, after being rescued from a horrible situation. Now he is a strong strapping adult, and a laird in his own right. One day while Callum is attempting to escort his ward home, he is set upon by mercenaries who were hired to kidnap the boy and return him to his murderous family. With a broken leg and nearly drowned, Callum is found by Bethoc and her infant sister, who hide him away in a cave and nurse him back to health. Callum was quite the tortured hero, having suffered immeasurably during his childhood, even beyond what our heroine has endured. He seemed to be a great listener, and he made both Bethoc and her sister feel safe. However, because of this past, Callum believes himself incapable of love and that effected his relationships quite a bit. While I liked Callum, he wasn't quite "take charge" enough for me. He seemed to need rescuing more often than he rescued, and he missed out on some of the more dangerous situations. 

The relationship between Bethoc and Callum was definitely not insta-love. They got to know one other over a period of months as they talked during Callum's convalescence. Then one day they fell into bed rather easily given Bethoc's lack of experience and total ignorance in the ways between men and women. However, unlike most historical romances, the progress from friend to lover did not signify marriage for our couple. Things were drawn out for quite some time without any kind of definition of the relationship. I found myself getting annoyed with the relationship - I wanted to see things more defined or heading down a certain path. 

This story wasn't just about romance, there was also a sinister side plot in which women were targeted in heinous ways. There was murder, false accusations, wrongful imprisonment, and torture to contend with. This dark side plot was quite interesting and helped advance the plot where the romance seemed to drag.

I will say that the secondary characters in this story were fantastic. Bethoc's sister, Margaret, was a hoot! You don't expect such a precocious little girl to come out of such an abusive situation. I also liked Bethoc's oldest brothers, Colin and Bean. The boys so wanted to protect Bethoc and their siblings, but they weren't old enough or strong enough to fearlessly stand in Ker's way. 

I was reading this book while traveling so I switched back and forth between the ebook and audiobook formats. I am no stranger to this narrator, Angela Dawe. She does a good job with character voices and affectations, and she did an excellent job with Margaret's character. I am used to hearing her narrate another series with strong heroines... so sometimes I did have a hard time reconciling her voice with Bethoc's downtrodden character.

I voluntarily reviewed an advanced copy of this book which I received from the publishers, Kensington and Tantor Audio.