Beloved Stranger

The Black Knave

Broken Honor

Cold Target

Dancing With a Rogue

The Diamond King

Home For Christmas

The Perfect Family

Star Keeper

Tangle of Lies

Tempting the Devil

Twisted Shadows

Beloved Warrior
by Patricia Potter
(Berkley, $7.99, PG) ISBN 978-0-425-21573-9
In this conclusion to her Scottish Highland trilogy, Patricia Potter wraps up the stories of the three Maclean brothers, which is trickier than it sounds; if memory serves, the first two books left the impression that Patrick, the eldest Maclean, was dead. Given a choice, he might have wished himself dead. Captured in battle by the Spanish, Patrick was sold into slavery when the demands for his ransom were ignored. Lasting six years chained to the oars, he is now known only as “One” – the longest serving/surviving slave – on a ship bound for England. Also on board is Juliana Mendoza, niece of the ship’s owner, who is on her way to her own wedding to an English noble (much against her own wishes).

When Juliana notices the men who are kept barely better than animals and whose job it is to row the ship when the winds are not favorable, she is told that they are criminals or heretics, sentenced to die for crimes or by the Inquisition.

Led by Patrick, the slaves manage a revolt that leaves them in charge of the ship and leaves all the crew and the owner dead, their bodies unceremoniously dumped into the sea. Only Juliana and her maid remain alive, saved for ransoming by her fat marriage contract, dowry, and jewels. She is naturally terrified; as witnesses to the mutiny, she and her maid are the only things standing between Patrick and lasting freedom. Patrick and his band of mutineers sail the ship toward his family home, Inverleith, while he contemplates what he will do with the two women and how he will hide several dozen Moors and other assorted brigands until he can get rid of the ship and cargo. He is pleased, touched and surprised when he is welcomed with open arms by his two brothers, Rory and Lachlan, even though he could displace them if he elects to remain. He is even more surprised to see that both Rory and Lachlan are happily – extremely happily – married. The three boys had vowed never to marry, since an old Campbell curse guaranteed them nothing but pain and the premature loss of their brides.

Rory and Lachlan and their wives feature prominently in the story, more than the usual drop-ins one frequently sees in sequels. Their complex back-story is woven into Beloved Warrior relatively seamlessly, but they drink up a good deal of ink in this story. These characters offer a reminder of how relatively less gruesome their stories seemed to be (at least in memory). The barbaric conditions on the galleon, as well as the brutality of the mutiny, are not glossed over; the first several chapters are quite intense

Potter’s books are frequently a joy to read because, quite simply, she writes very well. The tempo, the detail, the word choices: exquisite. And the plots, even when cursed with extreme improbability, speed merrily along. They may contain astounding coincidences, (in this case, the story of the mute slave Denny), but they are free of gaping holes in logic and trite devices. Even when the reader doesn’t get the full story, (in this case, Patrick’s co-mutineer Diego has clearly got more going on than meets the eye), there is plenty of fodder to chew on. The dialog is crisp and relatively free of jarring anachronism.

Given all this, why only 3 hearts? Juliana and Patrick. While separately they were sympathetic and comprehensible characters, together they just didn’t make much sense. Very, very young and sheltered Juliana, only child of an abusive marriage between a Spanish father and English mother, and almost 40 year-old Patrick (well past middle age in the 16th century), son of a cursed marriage, world traveler, former soldier, former slave – there could not be a less-sheltered history – the attraction just isn’t believable. Patrick lusts for her, but, really, after six years? Wouldn’t any girl do? And Juliana is wracked with guilt that everything she has, everything she owns, was bought with the blood and sweat of innocent slaves. She admires Patrick’s manly qualities and manly attributes but, really, is this just borderline Stockholm Syndrome? With all the plot strands, all the attention to Rory, Lachlan, the Campbells, the curse, 16th century Scottish political goings-on, etc., there is actually not a lot of ink devoted to Patrick and Juliana’s feelings. They look, they lust, they love. The end. While reading, it’s all enthralling. When done, it’s a bit more what-the-heck?

If you loved Beloved Stranger and Beloved Imposter, the attention given here to the primary couples from those stories might make this more than a 3 heart for you. Or, you could re-read your favorite of the two; since it appeared then that Patrick was not among the living, you might not miss him.

--Laura Scott

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