|This book starts slowly, but fortunately the pace picks up. The heroine starts out as an immature twit and unfortunately pretty much stays that way.
The Lockhart family has borrowed 3,000 pounds from their neighbor, Payton Douglas, in order to retrieve a “priceless family heirloom” that was “purloined” by a man they thought was a friend.
Except they haven’t recovered the statue, and without it to sell do not have the money to repay the enormous loan. Unfortunately, never thinking they’d have difficulty paying off their debt, the Lockharts put up their daughter, Mared, as collateral.
Now, they’d rather Mared not marry a member of the Douglas clan, their “sworn enemies for hundreds of years.” They actually claim to have his best interests at heart, as it would hardly be fair to chain Payton to a woman who’s cursed: “a daughter of a Lockhart willna wed until she’s looked into the belly of the beast.” As curses go, this is pretty insipid, but apparently “there was not a man around the lochs who wasn’t deathly afraid of her.”
Except Payton. Payton, who otherwise seems to be an intelligent person, “adores” Mared, so he’s not unhappy with the turn of events. To overcome her objections, he even tries to court her, proving at every turn that he’s polite, kind, clever, patient, honest and charming. Mared, on the other hand, is a petulant brat. She hates him for raising sheep and prospering (her family is going broke raising cattle), he kisses her and she hates him because she likes it. She even hates him for being nice to her – the cad.
Finally, after the reader has wondered for 80 pages what the heck he sees in this self-centered shrew, Payton’s had enough. He tosses her out and says he’ll let her know how her family can pay him what they owe. His solution? Mared can work off the debt by becoming his housekeeper for one year. Mared doesn’t like that idea either, and throws several more tantrums to express her displeasure. Unfortunately for Mared, her family agrees the debt must be paid, and packs her off, kicking and screaming, to Payton’s estate.
Let’s start with the good stuff, because there certainly is some in this book. As heroes go, Payton is delightful. And when he realizes that Mared only seems to want what she can’t have, he plays the little shrew like a violin. What I couldn’t figure out was why he’d want to. I kept hoping that Mared would get trampled by a stampede of Payton’s sheep so the hero could get over this inexplicable infatuation and find someone worthy of him.
After we get past the rather plodding start, the book is also swiftly paced and readable. I was amazed at how engrossed I was, given how much I despised Mared. Full marks to the author for making this compelling reading – I can only imagine how enjoyable this book would have been with a heroine I could like.
In spite of the fact that Mared’s life sentence has been commuted to a mere one year of servitude, she continues to feel extremely hard done by. Her idea of abiding by the arrangement is to sit and read while the two housemaids do all the work, dye all the laundry blue, etc. etc. She insists on maintaining the Douglas/Lockhart feud, even though everyone else seems prepared to get over it. Even worse, after listening to her unhesitatingly give everybody a piece of her mind and the sharp side of her tongue for page after page, when the story reaches a critical moment, she dries up. She doesn’t know what to say! She needs time to think! Since when?
Then Mared gets a personality transplant (although she never stops expecting everything to be all about Mared, all the time), and we’re supposed to buy it. Whatever.
I’ve never read Julia London before, so I have no idea how typical this book is, but the writing was enjoyable even if the heroine wasn’t, so I can only recommend this book with reservations.
-- Judi McKee