Monday, March 7, 2016

Review: The Rock (Highland Guard #11)

The first time he caught sight of Elizabeth Douglas, Thomas MacGowan thought she was a princess. To the son of the castle blacksmith, the daughter of the powerful Lord of Douglas might as well be. When it becomes clear that his childhood companion will never see him as a man she could love, Thom joins Edward Bruce’s army as a man-at-arms to try to change his lot. If he’s harbored a secret hope that he could close the gap between them, he faces the cold, hard truth when Elizabeth comes to him for help. She might need the boy who used to climb cliffs to rescue her brother from the hands of the English, but she would never see the son of a smith as a man worthy of her hand.
Themes: Historical, Scottish
Rating: 4 stars
Heat Rating: 
The amazing story of the highland warriors that helped shape a nation continues with the somewhat out of the box story of a young man trying to find his true place in the world and someday earn the love of the girl that once captured his heart, the woman that scorned him and turned him away.  For long time fans of this series, Thommy’s story is one that at first doesn’t really seem to fit, mainly because he is a new introduction to the group, but once you really get into the meat of the story you can see how important he is to the team and the overall story ARC.  Unfortunately that lack of overt connection makes it difficult for some readers to immediately get into the story, but once I really got to know the characters I learned to like them a lot.  McCarty has a way of sucking her readers into the lives of her characters and making you root for them to find everything they desire, whether it is fame, stability, or the love of a true partner.  In the end you don’t realize just how attached you have become to these characters, but there is no denying that they stay in your heart and mind long after you turn that last page.  
This story revolves around the life of Thomas “Thommy” MacGowan, son of the local blacksmith, who once fell in love with a woman that turned out not to be interested in loving him.  He has struck out on his own, determined to succeed as a warrior, even as the odds are stacked against him.   When Elizabeth, the girl that broke his heart, shows up in his life again there is no denying that he still lusts for her and a small piece of his heart still belongs to her, but he refuses to let her break him again.  Lizzie never imagined that she would have feelings for the hero of her youth, her best friend, but when she sees Thommy again after so long she is instantly attracted, but she is already promised to another.  Life has thrown them together again and again, but when the world around them becomes too complicated there is no way that they can resist the emotions they bring out in each other.  Will Liz come to her senses in time, or will she give up the love of her life for the security and safety that her promised marriage offers?  And if she does give her heart free reign will it be in time to earn the love of the best man she’s ever known?
So, how to describe Thom?... well the first word would have to be sweet.  He has been a little bit in love with Elizabeth since he saw her when he was 9 years old and for many years after he fell more in love with her as they became friends.  He always knew she would be his someday, but when she shatters her heart—quite carelessly in my opinion—he was determined to leave her behind and make his way to a truly great warrior.  Seeing her again only drives the nail deeper into his heart, but when she comes to him in need, he second guesses his determination to keep her at arm’s length.  I liked Thom for the most part, though he certainly had his moments of boneheadedness, much like all the previous warriors in this series, but men will be men in that way I suppose. He was strong in both character and heart, even when he was fighting his true nature.  It’s obvious that his love for Elizabeth makes him a better man, even when he is pushing her away and acting like an ass.  That being said I was thrilled to see him find his place in the guard and save the day more than once and so sad for him when his heart is broken again and again.  Honestly Monica, how much pain can you inflict on one man?  Anyway, overall Thomas is the kind of man that makes the Highland Guard series so great and shows us the level of honor, greatness and sweetness that was once found in all our warriors but is now sadly lacking in most men. 
Elizabeth, however, is another story entirely.  Honestly I’ve never wanted to slap a heroine in this series more than I did Lizzie.  She was so callous, shallow, and whiny.  Even though she had a man willing to give his EVERYTHING for her, she was unwilling to see that the love of a man like Thomas is more than enough to keep her happy all her life.  Instead she is determined to have riches, security, and the implied power than comes with the marriage arranged by her oldest brother.   She seemed just to be a weak character, certainly too weak to deserve a man like Thomas, no matter how much he loved her, and it took almost the entire story for her to grow up and change enough for me to like her.  I can understand her issues, really I can, but so many women during this time were dealing with the same thing and still finding a way to be strong.  Elizabeth was certainly my least favorite heroine in this series, or anything written by Monica really, and I can honestly say I wouldn’t have been surprised if she didn’t earn back Thomas’s love in the end.  Luckily for her, Thomas is a good man and once he gives his heart, there’s no getting it back, and when she did finally grew up she was able to prove to him that she was changed enough to have earned his love and devotion. 
All that being said, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this story and would recommend it to readers in a heartbeat.  While some of the characters weren’t that great, there were even more characters that were awesome, including some we have already met and others new to the scene.  It was great getting to see previous couples interacting and sharing their love with their friends and family.  Thomas was a true warrior at the heart of him, even if he hadn’t been trained as one all his life, and his courage, honor, and willingness to do whatever it takes to serve his liege makes him the best kind of hero.  Elizabeth was a mostly weak woman that didn’t have a lot of character, though of course that was her role in the story and she was well written for all the flaws in her character.  I will say though that when these two come together in the later portions of the story, the love and passion between them is more than obvious, even as they resist it.  When they both finally come to understand that prestige and security is so much less important that sharing a true and lasting love, Thomas and Elizabeth join the ranks of truly great McCarty characters in my book and I look forward to seeing them in future stories.  The series overall is coming to a close rapidly and I find myself sad to see these amazing men go, but the great thing about any good series like this is that you can always go back to the beginning and read it again and again, reliving the stories and loves of the Highland Guard.  I cannot wait for the next stories, even as they bring the series to a close, because one of them is one we fans have been waiting for a long time, as the true identity of the famous Ghost will finally be revealed.  Time to start teasing us with what new fabulous series you will be bringing us Monica!

*ebook provided by publisher (via netgalley) for the purpose of an honest and unbiased review.  No compensation was provided.

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