Book: The Laird
Author: Grace Burrowes
Release Date: September 2, 2014
Publisher: Sourcebooks Casablanca
Genre: Historical Romance
He left his bride to go to war ...
After years of soldiering, Michael Brodie returns to his Highland estate to find that the bride he left behind has become a stranger. Brenna is self-sufficient, competent, confident -- and furious. Despite her anger at Michael's prolonged absence, Brenna has remained loyal to her husband, though Michael's people, and most especially the uncle who held the estate together for him, make it clear they expect Michael to set Brenna aside.
Though his most important battle will be for her heart.
Michael left Brenna when she needed him most, and then stayed away even after the war ended. Nonetheless, the young man who abandoned her has come home a wiser, more patient and honorable husband. Brenna is hurt, bewildered, and tired of fighting for the respect of those around her, but if she trusts Michael with the truths she'd been guarding, he'll have to choose between his wife and everything he holds dear.
Sometime after she’d fallen exhausted into her bed, Brenna felt the mattress dip and shift. A pleasant whiff of vetiver, whiskey -- and meadow grass? -- came to her as her husband arranged himself two feet to her left.
The next sound was harder to decipher, but she managed—the soles of two big male feet rubbing together, the bedtime equivalent of shaking the dust of the day from one’s feet, a small safeguard in the direction of keeping the sheets clean if conducted with those feet hanging over the side of the bed.
Michael punched his pillows next, several stout blows that would have knocked wayward notions from grown men.
“Are you trying to wake me up, Husband?”
The punching stopped, and she felt him flop down onto the mattress—and heard the put-upon male sigh with which he tucked himself in.
“You did not lock the door, Brenna. My things are in this room.”
So was his wife.
“Neither one of us wants talk.” The bed was huge, and they weren’t touching, but Brenna could feel her husband thinking.
“I did not want you to conclude I was sneaking up on you.”
“You’re hard to miss when encountered in a bed, Michael. Go to sleep. Morning comes quickly.” And yet, she was pleased the pillows had taken a few warning shots on her behalf.
“You want time.”
“I want a good night’s sleep.” Though she should have anticipated that, like any man, Michael would want to beat a topic to death once broached. He could not ponder a discussion and undertake it in manageable portions; he must have done with it, regardless of the hour.
“I want time, too, Brenna Maureen.”
Brenna rolled to her side, wishing she’d left a candle burning, despite the extravagance. “Time for what?”
“I was a good soldier, once I saw what was expected of me. It’s part of the reason I went to France. I was to look after my men, the same as a laird looks after his people. When I went to France, it was much the same, though I was in a garrison with soldiers of a different nationality. We looked after one another, most of the time, and when a man lapsed in that duty, he suffered consequences.”
What was he saying, and why must he say it to her in pitch darkness?
“If I were planning to run off, Michael Brodie, I would have scarpered long since. Many and many a family has left the Highlands, including entire branches of clan MacLogan. I could easily have gone with them.” Though her own clansmen had hardly recalled where they’d stashed her, once she’d come to live at Castle Brodie.
A considering pause ensued, and then Brenna felt a single, callused finger trace down the side of her jaw.
“You might have left, but you stayed. I’m glad you stayed.”
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As I was reading The Laird, I imagined Odysseus at the end of his travels and Penelope was waiting faithfully for him. Is that the end of the story?
For Grace Burrowes's Michael and Brenna, the homecoming is only the beginning of the story. Michael's been away at war for a number of years, and, when the war ended, he stayed two years more in London, without sending word to his wife about his welfare or whereabouts. Now he is home, and, to Michael's credit, he really isn't expecting much in terms of a welcome.
"Brenna is entitled to be exceedingly vexed with me. I was gone too long, I didn't write enough, and I should be made to pay in the coin of her choosing for as long as she pleases."
"Damn right. With interest."
- loc 1618
The word that came to mind when I sat down to write this review is "masterful" -- and it's a word that I've used only twice before in almost 3 years of blogging, but this is one of those books and Grace Burrowes is one of those authors that merit this adjective. Here's why:
The story could easily be a highly dramatic homecoming story with tearful confrontations and the like, but Grace Burrowes takes a very contained approach to the story. There are no big scenes and no soap-opera moments. It all simmers underneath the surface. I have to give Brenna credit for being such a heroic heroine. She has sacrificed her youth, her reputation, her very life to serve Michael's people, and she's never been recognised or appreciated for it, and, in fact, suffer their hushed speculations about why Michael left her to become a soldier (among other things). She was very young when they married, and then she was left to manage the castle when her mother-in-law decided to decamp to Ireland. Then her father-in-law, the former laird, dies and that leaves Brenna alone. She came into her own without much guidance, and without her husband -- and she had to figure out her own way. Life has taught Brenna very painful lessons, and Michael knows this -- but Brenna never talks about it, despite Michael's inquest. And this is a question I asked myself: Was it right for Brenna to keep silent about what happened to her?
We've seen Michael's story unfold slowly in The Captive and The Traitor, and there's been a lot of ambiguity in how the author has portrayed his character. Is he a deserter? Why did he stay with Sebastian? Even Milly, Sebastian's wife was a bit uncertain about whether she should trust Michael or not, but, we've seen his steadfastness and loyalty to Sebastian St. Clair, and we realise (later on) the tremendous sacrifices he has made for King and Country.
His own story, The Laird, shows us that life, marriage, war, and everything that happens are never one-sided. The idea of battle pervades this story -- and Michael and Brenna have both waged wars in their respective places. I love that Grace Burrowes does not discount Brenna's life or reduce it or diminish her struggle. This, of the three novels, is a perfect example of a domestic drama: Michael and Brenna's lives are tied to their people and the troubles of one are borne by the community (except Brenna's). It's enlightening to see the inner workings of a clan, of a castle waiting for it's master to return -- in the meantime, things go on as usual, but not "as usual" at the same time. Michael's return somewhat upsets the delicate truce that has been in place since he left -- there's a lot of cryptic hints about what has been happening in the castle and it takes a discerning eye and ear to figure out all the troubles that Brenna's been dealing with. In that Grace Burrowes elevates the "ordinary" concerns of a household -- the author shows us that the Brenna and Michael's struggles are the same and the sacrifices made are of equal weight and value.
"Who or what was supposed to comfort me, Michael Brodie? When I was told you'd gone over to the enemy? When I was told you were dead? When I imagined you captured by the French or worse?"
- loc 80
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"You're saying Brenna faced a challenge."
"You never were stupid, Michael Brodie. Brenna faced a war. Your parents were too absorbed with their own dramatics, and everybody from Goodie MacCray to Angus Brodie assumed you'd left to get away from your bride."
- loc 709
It's beautiful to see a relationship being repaired by two willing parties. There's a lot of wariness, but also a lot of patience -- and while there's so many questions that hang in the air (about motivations and secrets, about Angus Brodie and Brenna, about the clan), what is without question is the love and the faith in that love that both Brenna and Michael have. As with other second-chance-at-love stories, there's always the poignancy presented by the "what if" -- what if Michael hadn't left? What if he had come home two years sooner?
"Brenna, if you had three wishes, would one of them be that you had never married me?" His tone was gentle, not accusing.
- loc 838
But there's also the moving forward: neither our hero or heroine dwell so much in the past, but, rather, have their hands immersed in the present and their eyes fixed to the future. It's not a perfect relationship, but it's a relationship that works.
"A marriage is a committed union of two souls, Brenna Brodie, not the desperate attempts of one soul to attach the affections of the other. So I'm wondering: How will you woo me?"
- loc 928
In her author's notes, Grace Burrowes talks about how much heart she has put into this book -- and you can really see it as you read through this novel. It is a palpable force that drives this story forward and breathes such life into these two characters. While we see historical romance as fantasy and escapist, I see a real-ness to Michael and Brenna's story and it is a wonderful and mesmerising ending to one truly amazing series.
The Laird is book 3 in Grace Burrowes's The Captive Hearts series and was released today, September 2, 2014.
Disclosure: I received this review copy for this event. Thank you to Grace Burrowes and Sourcebooks for the opportunity. Yes, this is an honest review.
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To celebrate the release of The Laird, Grace Burrowes is giving away three (3) sets the complete trilogy (The Captive, The Traitor, and The Laird). (Enter via Rafflecopter below.)
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