Brodie Durward is finally returning to his home in the Highlands after being away for a long time fighting in the Crusades. He lost his father and brother in the war as well as his memory when he was gravely wounded. He's happy just to be alive and going home, but being unable to remember anything, including his sister and best friends, weighs heavily on him. Battle-weary, he only wants to get back to his castle and settle in as the new laird, but fate has other plans in store for him. On the way there he runs into a lad sitting by the body of a dead man at the side of the road. At first, Brodie is angry, thinking the boy has killed the man and is robbing him, but he soon realizes it's no lad at all, but a very comely lass.
Annabel Henderson's life falls apart when her father collapses by the side of the road. With his dying breath, he tells her that he wishes he'd brought her home sooner and that she should beware of a certain man, but is unable to get his name out before passing. When Brodie and his men stop to help her, Annabel is grateful for their assistance, but when Brodie insists she come with them to his castle under his protection, she declines. With no family left, she has every intention of continuing her father's tinker business, but Brodie declares otherwise and persuades her to his way of thinking with a sound spanking. Soon she finds herself safely ensconced at Urquhart under Brodie's care, while he searches for a husband or other appropriate traveling companions who will help her continue her business. The more time Annabel spends with the handsome warrior, the more she falls for him, but Brodie is betrothed to another and his fiancée arrives at the castle soon after they do. Then Annabel finds a note her mother left behind, which suggests that Annabel was not the blood daughter of the people she thought were her parents, and one of the first of Brodie's memories to return is that of the people he thinks may be her kin. He sends word to them, but before they arrive, an older couple who are also in the tinker trade come to Urquhart offering Anna the perfect way to leave. But little does she know that the couple have been hired to lure her away from the protection of the castle so that a sinister enemy can kill her. Will Brodie be able to stop them in time, and even if he does, how can they ever be together with another woman in the picture?
After an OK reading experience with Maggie Mine, the first book of this series, an unnamed duet of Scottish medieval stories, I picked up The Great Scottish Devil with fairly low expectations. That was probably a good thing, because IMHO, it didn't live up to the fairly favorable ratings I've seen for it on the various book websites. When I first started reading it, I thought I might enjoy it a little better than the first book, but by about the mid-point, I was starting to roll my eyes in frustration and disbelief at a lot of things and I'm afraid the story never recovered. I ended up having a lot of the same issues with this book as I did with the previous one, perhaps even more, so it was just an OK read for me, and one that I actually liked slightly less than the previous one.
For starters, just like with the first book, the characterizations are pretty one-dimensional. Brodie has recently returned from fighting in the Crusades, where he lost his father and brother, as well as his own memory. Having stopped at his sister's new home upon his return from the battlefield in the previous book, he hasn't yet made it back to his own castle. On the way there, he and his men encounter a young woman whose father, a tinker, has died by the side of the road. They help her bury her father, and Brodie insists that she come to Urquhart with him and live under his protection. Initially Brodie comes off as something of an ill-tempered jerk, who needs his second in command to interpret his moods to make him seem more noble. I understood that he'd had a rough time of it, being gravely injured and losing both his family and his memory in the Crusades, but we learn nothing of how these things make him feel. Instead we merely get treated to his cranky moods, occasionally punctuated with a small act of kindness. Eventually his moods start to even out a little, but there are still a lot of other things that bothered me. Much is made of him being an honorable man of his word, but the only thing he really does to show this is insist upon honoring the commitment that he doesn't even remember making to marry an English noblewoman. We also learn that he has severe headaches as the memories try to break through, but he doesn't seek any treatment for them even though Annabel supposedly has some skill with herbs. I'm afraid there was precious little information to make me feel genuine sympathy toward Brodie, much less fall in love with him.
Annabel is stubborn and willful, initially resenting Brodie's interference and not really wanting to go with him when he finds her at the side of the road with her dead father. She's grateful for his help with burying her father, but she simply wants to continue on with her traveling tinker's business. Of course, being the domineering alpha that he is, Brodie won't let her, insisting she come with him and apparently his spankings can be quite persuasive (insert eye roll). I understood him wanting to protect a young woman who was all alone in the world, but he could certainly have been nicer about it. When Annabel learns from Douglas, his friend and first in command, about what Brodie's been through, she instantly turns sympathetic toward him, and that coupled with her physical attraction to him is what passes for her falling for him. Through cryptic clues found in her father's dying words and a couple of faded papers she discovers in the tinker's wagon, Annabel soon realizes that the people who raised her weren't her real parents and that someone is out to kill her. There was ample room here for a whole host of emotions for Anna. Finding out that the people you thought were your real family actually aren't would be shocking enough, but add in the trauma of nearly being murdered on top of it and she should have been having all kinds of feels, yet this area is pretty much glossed over. In fact, the couple of times that she shows some emotion when having trouble adjusting to her new parents, it earns her nothing bur reprimands and spankings. Anna often feels sorry for Brodie when he spanks her, thinking how he's under so much stress, which made zero sense to me. If a man spanked me as hard and as often as Brodie spanks Anna, regardless of what he's going through, I'd be running the other way, not feeling sorry for the guy. Anna is also said to be loved by all the servants, soldiers, villagers, etc. at the castle, but she never has any interactions with any of them to show why or how she became beloved by them.
The romantic relationship is equally as one-dimensional as the individual characterizations. I could sense the strong attraction between Brodie and Annabel, but the why of it completely eluded me. They're just instantly in lust with each other almost from the first moment they meet, but it's definitely more told than shown. There's even precious little physical description of the two characters for me to understand their attraction. She merely thinks he's handsome, if irritatingly domineering, while he acts like an untried schoolboy around her, as though just because she's female, he must be hard 24/7 whenever she's around. I don't even recall him thinking she's pretty, much less beautiful, and at first glance, he even thought she was a boy. There were no real romantic moments between them and I found many missed opportunities to build a stronger emotional connection. Conversations and other moments that could have helped show their growing care and affection for one another are told after the fact, when showing them in the moment would have really lent itself to creating an actual sense of romance and a true budding relationship.
Even the love scenes were a total bust for me. I hesitate to even categorize this book as erotic romance, because of the weak love scenes. The only reason I have is because of the spanking element, but even that isn't the type that's usually found in erotica, which I'll explain in a moment. As for the sex scenes - and I prefer calling them that rather then love scenes, because there's no emotion in them - they're short (the longest one is only about a page), infrequent (there are only two instances of them having sex and one where he fingers her), and lacking in detail. The first sex scene was truly eye-rolling and very unsatisfying on a number of levels. In a playful and affectionate moment, while straddling Brodie, Anna "accidentally" sits down on his erection, driving it inside of her to the hilt with absolutely no foreplay or preparation. Ouch! She's a virgin, yet it causes her only the briefest instant of pain before she's totally into it. Uh-huh, yeah, sure... Then it fades to black before they even climax. The second scene is just as bad if not worse. He bends her over a bed, poised to enter her, asks her to marry him, and when she says yes, he slams into her, again with no foreplay or preparation, and again, that's where the scene ends. Despite having a little bit of erotic language and a whole lot of spanking in this book, the love scenes most definitely were not erotic at all or even romantic. Leave out those two elements, and this would barely rate a warm on my sensuality scale.
Now for the spanking, which wasn't my cup of tea at all, and actually made me rather uncomfortable. I can enjoy a good spanking scene in an erotic romance, but here it's presented in the form of domestic discipline, which differs from BDSM style spanking. For anyone who is unfamiliar with DD, it's basically a form of discipline used by the head of household (typically the husband) to punish his wife (or in this case, ward) for bad behavior, and in most cases isn't directly connected with sexual desire. Much like with a good love scene, a good spanking scene should reveal something about one or both of the characters or propel the plot forward. As with the first book, it seems like the story has been built around a prescribed number of spanking scenes, rather than the spanking scenes being an organic and integral part of the story. Just like with the relationship building, I found missed opportunities for making it so. It was almost like the author was creating excuses for Brodie to spank Anna. Case in point, he spanks Anna the day after he meets her, when she isn't even legally his ward yet, but he holds off for more than a week on spanking his fiancée in spite of her being far more snotty, demanding, and willful than Anna was, IMHO. Spanking for the sake of spanking is just like sex for the sake of sex. If those scenes can be removed and still tell the same story, then they're weak and meaningless. The author also seems to come up with some pretty thinly veiled excuses for it to happen as well, and many of these scenarios made me uncomfortable (eg. When Anna is spanked for having trouble adjusting to the new parents, or when Brodie spanked her at the end for leaving without telling him she was pregnant, when she really had no other choice). The spankings are always undertaken as a form of punishment for Annabel, and although a couple of times, it leads to some sexual desire, for the most part, it doesn't. One of the spankings was even administered by her father. In one scene, Brodie gives Anna a bare-bottom whipping of a dozen hard lashes with a leather belt, which would most likely have left welts, even though it's never mentioned, while she bites down on his knife sheath. IMHO, there's absolutely nothing sexy or even remotely acceptable about a punishment that requires the person to bite down on a piece of leather to staunch the pain. Also to the best of my knowledge, true BDSM is consented to by both parties generally for the purpose of sexual titillation, has safety measures in place, and requires aftercare, not merely an arbitrary punishment undertaken by one person simply to break the will of the other party. In this story, none of these things occur, so there's no equality in this part of the relationship, which to me, felt like little more than abuse.
Lastly, I took issue with several aspects of the writing itself and the historical details, or lack thereof. The writing was often over-simplistic and sometimes repetitive, making me wish the author had made use of a thesaurus. The two major conflict points in the plot were poorly executed. The reasons for the villain's pursuit of Annabel were extremely weak, and Brodie's fiancée simply crying off their engagement that was decreed by the king himself was something that never would have happened, regardless of whether the two parties involved were in love with others. I also strongly questioned Brodie's right to spank a woman to whom he wasn't related and who also wasn't legally under his guardianship. There were other historical details that I found questionable, anachronistic, or outright fallacies as well. For example, Annabel is said to pull a dirk from her boot. Dirks are typically over a foot long (I know because I own a historical reproduction of one), so definitely not something one could have carried in a boot. Instead, that would be more like a sgain dubh. Secondly, the dirk, or at least a weapon called by that name, didn't exist in 13th century Scotland. The term didn't come into use in Scotland until around 1600. Then there's the kilt, which also didn't exist at that time and didn't come into vogue until the Jacobite era as well. Yes, that right, I did my research, and Braveheart had it completely wrong, apparently deliberately so. 13th century Scots wore the same braies and loose shirts seen throughout most of Europe at that time. Finally, the Scots dialect was shaky at best. If I saw the word naught used in place of not one more time I might have gone insane, especially since it was used with no regard to whether the character was Scots or English.
Now admittedly, I've had a lot of criticisms of this book, but for some reason, I wasn't completely and utterly bored while reading it in spite of its weaknesses. I couldn't really say why except that perhaps it amused me on some level. Also unlike some books where I have to concentrate for all I'm worth and still have trouble making heads or tails of what's happening, this was an easy read, albeit one lacking the depth I crave. I also didn't completely dislike the characters like I have with some other stories. Even though I didn't understand Annabel's apparent liking for and need for spankings, she was a nice girl (so to each his own), and although I could have done with Brodie administering far less spankings, he seemed to a have a good heart underneath the bluster and caveman act and didn't entirely rub me the wrong way. So bottom line, if you're the type of reader who is more forgiving of weaknesses and inaccuracies than I am, and you're really into DD-style spanking (I can't stress enough that this book isn't BDSM and isn't particularly erotic), then you'll probably enjoy The Great Scottish Devil. As for me, though, it was barely an average read, and I'm beginning to think that Starla Kaye's writing style may not be for me.
Note: Due to the spanking element which transitions into sex or sexual desire a couple of times, I feel compelled to categorize this book as erotic, even though to me, it's really a standard historical romance with a lot of spanking in it. However, the spanking is presented as domestic discipline, which differs from the discipline aspect of BDSM in that it isn't intended to titillate but to punish bad behavior and maintain control of the household. The love scenes aren't very steamy at all, but there is some stronger language used on occasion.
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