Review: The Highlander’s Crusader Bride by Cathy & DD MacRae

Reviewed by Ronelle

Half-Armenian, half-Scot Arbela MacLean is a true daughter of the desert, a princess born in the Holy Land only a few years after the Third Crusade. Determined not to be as helpless as her mother was, she’s forsaken the gentler, feminine pursuits of women her age for Turkish bow and arrow, a sword, and throwing darts. She is a warrior who fears nothing—except perhaps the day a husband is chosen for her. That day becomes much too close for comfort when her father is recalled to Scotland to take up leadership of clan MacLean.

Caelen MacKern, known as the Bull of the Highlands, has no use for a wife. His first marriage formed an alliance, and he did not grieve when his spoiled, immature bride passed away not long after giving birth to their only son, Bram. But after a devastating pestilence nearly wiped them out, clan MacKern is in desperate need of help. Against his better judgement, Caelen agrees to an offer he can’t in good conscience refuse; convince Arbela to marry him and receive the men, means, and coin he needs to rebuild. Considering the tone of their initial encounter, it doesn’t entirely surprise him when the exotic, outspoken lass has some terms of her own.

They agree to an arrangement that gives them the freedom to live as they please. without interference from a meddling spouse. It isn’t long, however, before their marriage of convenience and indifference develops a passion that neither has ever known. But navigating the unknown waters of love isn’t the only challenge they’ll face…because there’s an enemy lurking on the MacKern borders, and he wants Bram

***

It was hard for me to rate this story because I loved it up until the last chapter. On one hand, the issue I had was a big one—almost big enough to ruin the whole thing. On the other hand, I couldn’t quite justify tanking everything that came before just because of a bumbled external conflict resolution.

The characters of Caelen and Arbela were well-developed and believable. They were strong, independent, and stubborn in their own ways, but not to the point of being unreasonable. Their love wasn’t instant or easy, and its development was actually much more realistic than many romances I’ve read. The personal concerns, ideals, and hang-up’s each brought to the marriage were legitimate rather than just token, trivial devices to drive the plot, and they had to work through them instead of casting them aside at the first stirrings of attraction. This was probably my favorite aspect of the story, as there don’t seem to be many authors who can cultivate such a blossoming of true regard, affection, and passion without making it feel contrived or forced. And when they finally decide to take things further than a business arrangement…damn, did Ms. MacRae reward us for the wait!

But this story had a lot more going for it than just the growing heat between Caelen and Arbela. Seeing their relationship and interaction with Bram added an innocent aspect to things and helped to brighten the mood when it got a little too serious. He was a sweet addition to the going’s-on and adorably light-hearted…but don’t make the mistake of thinking he’s just a cotton-candy-fluff addition. He’s integral to the external conflict, which was just as well developed as the romance, and Ms. MacRae treated it with a surprisingly subtle hand at times.
Soooo, now we need to talk about that last chapter. Things were going SO WELL, the tension was cranked up, the stakes were high, and things were literally on fire…and then they fell flat on their face in the mud. Why? Because Arbela acted contrary to her previously established, story-long character, and not in a small, unimportant way. The entire resolution to the conflict hinged on her derailment, which was extremely aggravating. It was clear that Ms. MacRae either had a specific idea about how things came to an ultimate head or she couldn’t find another way to resolve it, so she just changed Arbela to suit her purposes. Not cool.

On a side-ish note: I’m not sure if I got an ARC or a published copy, but either way, the editing could have used some work. There were errors (missing letters in words, misspelling of names, etc.) that even a simple spellcheck would have flagged, but that somehow made it into the copy I received. Even if this WAS an ARC, there’s no excuse for some of what I stumbled across.

Bottom line: This was a fabulous historical romance, with the exception of last chapter. I haven’t read the preceding Hardy Heroines books, but this one stood on its own just fine. I highly recommend this author and this story for anyone who loves a good medieval setting with an intriguing plot.

Rating: A (until the last chapter, which was a C-)

*I received a copy in exchange for my honest review

Click to purchase: Amazon

The Highlander’s Crusader Bride
by Cathy and DD MacRae
Release Date: October 24, 2017
Publisher: Short Dog Press

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