Lady Triona McKee’s life is under desperate siege. The marriage she thought would answer her dreams has left her struggling alone to provide for her people, while an arrogant kinsman prepares to take her land. But one look into the cynical green eyes of her cousin’s boldest knight warns Triona that even a promise of help is just as dangerous. . .
Betrayal taught Sir Brett Murray to make protecting others his only life. Still, the growing desire he can’t help but feel for this entrancing widow makes him long to earn more than her trust. But in trying to save all she cherishes, he can’t see how an honor-scarred knight can stay in her world and her heart. . .unless he risks everything to prove his love is now and forever always. . .
This is book 19 (!) in the Murray series by Hannah Howell, though I didn’t realize that when I started the book. Highland Master focuses on Lady Triona McKee, a widow and laird of Banuilt, her former husband’s land. She is an excellent laird, despite the objections of many who think a woman should not be a leader and despite the efforts of her devious neighbor to force her into marriage. Her situation is getting desperate as her neighbor gets more destructive and hurtful to her clan. Then her cousin Arianna arrives for a visit. She brings knights from her clan as protection, one of whom is Sir Brett Murray. Brett and the other knights realize Triona is in trouble and set out to help, though it ends up being much more complicated than any of them expected.
This book was really a mixed bag for me. Let’s start with what I liked:
- Triona is a great character. I love a practical, self-aware heroine, and Triona definitely belongs in that category. She tries to be grateful for what she has. She is self-sufficient and competent, but she isn’t a martyr and takes help when it’s offered. She doesn’t whine or complain, but she’s no Mary Sue either. She gets angry when it’s deserved, is stubborn, and while she’s modest she can acknowledge her strengths. I loved hearing her story.
- While some parts of the book plodded, other parts were exciting and fast paced, especially toward the last third of the story. I am a sucker for stories where the heroine is in danger but plays some role in her own salvation. While Brett and his buddies do need to “rescue” her a few times, Triona doesn’t just sit back and let everyone else do the rescuing either. There isn’t really any battle action, but there are some exciting chase scenes and some good confrontations with the villain.
- I enjoyed the sort of world building Howell did with Banuilt. The picture painted of the land and the people was moving and added a rich background to the story. You could really see their connection to each other and understand how they came to be in their desperate situation.
But, there were a lot of things I didn’t like too:
- I really, really dislike when Scottish historicals try to estimate the accent and lingo. It is verra, verra distracting, and often ye dinnae ken what is being said on the first read. Och! It doesn’t make it historically accurate, just frustrating to read. I realize this is more an issue of personal preference than book quality, but it still grates on my nerves.
- Major instalust between Brett and Triona. They are already fantasizing about each other from the very first meeting. It seemed quite out of character for both of them.
- The book is long for no good reason. There is so much repetition that it drove me insane. How many times do we need to have a character opine on how knights and travelers must have settled Banuilt because it was so peaceful, or how Banuilt was previously such a good ally with the neighboring clan? I got it the first time–no need to keep repeating. I feel like this book would have been greatly improved by some ruthless editing.
- On a related note, the book plodded along in many places. I think one of the best examples is the ending. After the big climax, the book keeps going and going. First Brett leaves and there are all kinds of scenes of him and Triona apart. Then he returns and I was thinking “Finally! They just need to have it out and they’ll be at their HEA,” but nope. His visit drags on, and then when they do finally work some of it out, there’s still more miscommunication going on that takes even longer to get resolved. I was genuinely getting annoyed and just wanted the book to end…and then there’s a still freaking epilogue! As I said, this book just takes too long to get to where it’s going, which made reading parts of it tedious.
- Men in this book are pretty much evil, misogynistic women-haters or perfect male specimens of 21st-century feminism, with nothing much in between. There is a priest who is totally on board with marrying Triona against her will and allowing her new husband to rape her because he thinks women are worthless. Contrast that with all the Murrays who are absurdly women-friendly and open-minded. One scene that actually made me laugh is when Brett and Triona are first getting naked and she’s embarrassed because she has some “birthing scars” (which I assume means stretch marks?). She tries to cover up but he stops her:
“They are the scars of a woman giving life to a child, scars as hard-won and honorable as any a noble warrior wears.”
- It’s not that I don’t agree with the sentiment, but the idea of ANYONE, let alone a rugged Scottish knight, saying that during foreplay just made me giggle. I don’t really enjoy misogynism in my books, but I also don’t need them to be quite so didactic.
While I really liked the premise of this book, the characters, and some of the plot, there were just so many frustrating things about it that it didn’t all work for me.
Grade: 2.75 out of 5