The past month has been kind of rough in terms of the number of books I’ve DNF’d. I’ve put down two brand-new historicals in a week, so while I wasn’t thrilled with The Laird Takes a Bride, I was determined to power through it just to finish something.
The problem with The Laird Takes a Bride is that it’s an incredibly uneven novel. The first half of the book is frustrating, and while it improved considerably by the second half, there was a lot to slog through to get there. It was so uneven it actually felt as if each half had been written by two different people.
At age twenty-seven, Fiona Douglass is a spinster and content to stay that way. Her heart was broken when the man she loved and thought would offer for her, Logan Munro, married her sister instead. So Fiona isn’t thrilled when she’s summoned to Castle Tadgh to be a potential bride to Alasdair Penhallow.
On the morning after his thirty-fifth birthday party, Alasdair is made aware of an inconvenient clan decree stating:
Any chieftain of Castle Tadgh who remains unmarried by his thirty-fifth birthday must immediately invite the eligible highborn maidens of the Eight Clans of Killaly to stay within the castle, and within thirty-five days choose one to be his bride.
Failure to comply with this is punishable by being put on a pike for thirty-five days before being buried.
There are four eligible maidens available for Alasdair’s choosing, and Fiona is among them. What follows is sort of a house party (the book is set in 1811) where the women compete for Alasdair’s affection.
The problem is the other maidens were caricatures, not characters, and so poorly fleshed out and stereotyped that it was borderline offensive. We have The Delicate Princess, The Wild Child, The Social Climber, and then Fiona, who is above it all and therefore clearly Alasdair’s One True Love.
A second problem was that I didn’t particularly like Fiona. She’s industrious and a list-maker, constantly improving the situation around her, which is nice except she’s also kind of shitty about it. She’s especially unkind to her middle-aged Aunt Isobel, whom she blames for encouraging her to pursue her disastrous love affair with Logan Munro.
For the first half of the book Alasdair is just kind of there, trying to figure out why Fiona isn’t impressed with him. Then some stuff happens.
Fiona is the only one left for Alasdair to marry.
The next part of the book is Alasdair and Fiona navigating the beginning of their marriage. He and Fiona spend a lot of time sniping and snapping at each other, and it felt like hanging out with your soon-to-be-divorced relatives at Thanksgiving.
Then, finally, finally we get some light at the end of the tunnel. A little more than halfway though the book, I started getting some backstory on Alasdair that expanded his character and made him more compelling. Then Fiona mellowed into someone I liked more. Once that happened, the book was actually enjoyable and fun to read. We even get a secondary romance between Cousin Isobel and Alasdair’s uncle that’s incredibly sweet and heartwarming.
Had Alasdair’s backstory been sprinkled in earlier in the book, it would have made him a much more interesting character and driven the plot forward in a more meaningful way. As it was, he didn’t come to life for me until halfway through the book.
Personally, I would have been fine skipping the entire 19th century Scottish The Bachelor portion of the book. The decree forcing Alasdair to choose a bride from among four women could easily have been tailored to just force him to marry Fiona instead. It’s not like it made a ton of sense to begin with. The house party portion of the novel really didn’t add anything to the plot other than annoyance, and it wasn’t until those other characters left that Fiona and Alasdair were allowed to grow.
I also didn’t like the way Fiona’s character was handled; I think she was meant to be a Cinderella archetype, but it felt off. Fiona’s father is awful, her sisters are all married, and she’s stuck at home basically taking care of things. When we see her in the competition, it’s clear she’s “The One” because she’s industrious, and always doing things for other people. Tying virtue to doing work for others has always kind of irked me, because it’s an expectation of women (especially unmarried women of the time) that they take on the burdens and troubles of their family and community in order to prove their worth. As a result, most of Fiona’s personality comes from what she does for other people, not who she actually is. She likes to knit and sew in her spare time (again for others), but most of her character amounts to “busy managing things.”
Like I said, the book does start to pick up about halfway through when Fiona and Alasdair start genuinely trying to figure each other out. Fiona starts treating Cousin Isobel with the kindness she deserves. Alasdair is given a past that makes him an actual person rather than a paper-doll Highland laird. The problem is the reader has to push through about 200 pages to get there, and I’m just not sure it’s worth it.
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