Mon
Aug 28 2017 12:00pm

First Look: Lisa Berne’s The Laird Takes a Bride (August 29, 2017)

The Laird Takes a Bride by Lisa Berne

Lisa Berne
The Laird Takes a Bride (Penhallow Dynasty #2)
Avon / August 29, 2017 / $7.99 print, $5.99 digital

Lisa Berne’s second novel, The Laird Takes a Bride, is a marriage-of-convenience that pairs two older protagonists (for 1811 Scotland) in a most inconvenient way.

At his 35th birthday feast, Alasdair Penhallow is presented with an obscure clan law, one that forces him to marry an eligible young woman from one of eight clans within 35 days. At this “advanced” age, Alasdair is quite set in his bachelor lifestyle and, naturally, has no desire to take a bride. Fiona Douglass, the oldest and only unmarried daughter in her family is, at 27, determined that she will stay on at her family’s home to manage things as she’s been doing.

The book opens with Fiona attending yet another family wedding, her 71st by her count. She’s an utterly sensible woman, concerned with the wellbeing of her family and the families on their lands. She makes lists, editing them as she accomplishes tasks, propelling herself through her days with an efficiency that is sufficiently distracting… or so she thinks. Early in the story, we see a glimpse of the emotion Fiona works to suppress. Her younger sister, who married Fiona’s own beau some time prior, is pregnant, and Fiona is rather crushed, feeling the keen loss of a life that could have been hers. (Logan is a cad and she’s well rid of him.) None of this, however, prevents her from turning down the abusive, awful men who offer for her.

Having given us two moderately unhappy people living lives they’ve talked themselves into wanting, Berne tosses a wrench into the works:

In a disbelieving voice Fiona read out loud: “The consequence for failing to abide by sacred clan law is death. Said female to be weighted with stones and flung into the nearest loch known to have a depth greater than twenty feet. Bagpipe accompaniment optional.”

“How romantic!” put in Cousin Isobel, wreathed in smiles. ”Fiona, dear, what a wonderful opportunity for you!”

Fiona’s father is thrilled, and sends Isobel and Fiona off. I was convinced that the rest of the novel would be something similar to The Bachelor: Regency Scotland, and was so relieved that it wasn’t. The four women “competing” for Alasdair’s hand are tragically whittled down to just Fiona, and both hero and heroine grudgingly do their duty, both having established upon meeting that they would not suit.

What follows is a sometimes humorous, sometimes eerie, sometimes dangerous courtship… after marriage. If marriage-of-convenience is your catnip, you’ll enjoy this one. I appreciated that Alasdair, who doesn’t want a family after having lost his in a boating accident 15 years prior, was thoroughly miserable in a loveless arrangement. If you like to yell “you idiots, you obviously love each other!” at a book, this is your chance! A secondary romance between two middle-aged characters, Alasdair’s uncle and Fiona’s cousin, is also satisfying. The two of them are flawed but fit so well with each other than you can’t help but root for them.

Most of all, I was grateful for the portrayal of Fiona, a heroine who isn’t particularly sweet or obliging. She’s headstrong in a practical sort of way, the sort of woman who removes the frills from the small drawing room and refuses to apologize for it. This is not to say that knick-knacks and ornate furniture aren’t perfectly lovely, but rather that Fiona is her own person and doesn’t compromise the sensible, helpful parts of her nature in order to put on airs. She manages all of this without being cruel, snobbish, or resentful. She simply makes her lists, puts her head down, and carries on. Once Alasdair and his clan realize this, they love her for it. And isn’t that what a good romance is? To be loved for who one is, rather than for what someone expects one to be? 

***

Learn more about or pre-order a copy of The Laird Takes a Wife by Lisa Berne, available August 29, 2017:

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When not reading All of the Things, Suzanne is raising two small valkyries and trying to open a bookstore. Book, comic, and assorted other tweets at @cerestheories.

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