by Monica McCarty

Rating:
5/5

Plot/Storyline: πŸ“– πŸ“– πŸ“– πŸ“– πŸ“–
Feels: πŸ¦‹πŸ¦‹πŸ¦‹πŸ¦‹πŸ¦‹
Romance: πŸ’ž πŸ’ž πŸ’ž πŸ’ž πŸ’ž
Emotional Depth: πŸ’” πŸ’” πŸ’” πŸ’” πŸ’” 
Sexual Tension: ⚑️ ⚑️ ⚑️ ⚑️ βš‘️ 
Sensuality: πŸ”₯ πŸ”₯ πŸ”₯ πŸ”₯ πŸ”₯
Sex Scene Length: πŸ† πŸ† πŸ† πŸ† πŸ†

This book was fucking incredible. It deserves swear words far more creative than I can come up with to demonstrate how amazing it was. I read The Hawk by Monica McCarty last February, and I loved it so much that I think it ruind a year of reading for me. Well, I might just be in for another ruined year, because somehow, I loved The Viper more.

I keep almost writing “the thing I love about Monica McCarty the most is…” but then I can’t pick just one thing. She does so many things so damn well. Her stories are epic. Her characters, brilliant. The emotions will tear your guts out and make your heart feel like it’s exploding. And her intertwining of history adds a vividness and realism that I don’t find very often.

And it’s that history, in particular, that sets this Highland Guard novel apart from the others I have read so far. They are all rich with it, but this story’s heroine was a hero. A martyr. One whose name lives on in history after more than seven hundred years. I knew a bit of the history before reading this. If you don’t, I would highly recommend reading about Isabella MacDuff before picking up this book. As I read it, I couldn’t help but wonder how does one portray a woman who sacrificed what she did, who suffered the way she did, and do it well? Could a fictional version of her come across as bold and brave as the stories of her throughout history?

For me, the answer is yes. From the first, I could tell that Bella MacDuff was strong, possessed of an inner fortitude that could rival any of McCarty’s Highland Guard leads. She’s both formidable and forbidding. In different ways than a warrior, of course, but nevertheless unwaivering in her beliefs, in her values, and in her unrelenting drive to fight for what she believes in. She sacrifices nearly everything; her daughter and her freedom foremost amongst them. And because of this, she suffers. She suffers so deeply that what she goes through would destroy most people.

Yet, though practically made of steel, Bella is not a hard woman. She is soft and sweet and trusting. And she is probably the only woman who could have breached the defenses of the hardened Lachlan MacRuairi.

Lachlan has suffered too. But where the cruelties that Bella experienced were public, Lachlan bore his alone, in secret, in a world of darkness that he constructed carefully around himself. He’s one of my favorite kinds of heroes. Tough. Sardonic. Icy. Seemingly devoid of emotions. But underneath it all lies tenderness to match the depths of an ocean. He’d just been betrayed so many times, and in the most vile of ways, that there had been no choice for him but to become the cold, calculating man he is when he meets Bella MacDuff.

I love the balance of these two characters. They are so alike and yet, so completely different from one another. Both had shared similar fates in their pasts. Betrayal. Heartache. Loss. Imprisonment and torture. Experiences that happened to them separately, but that bound them together in understanding. At the same time, where Bella seeks to share her strength with those around her, Lachlan hoards his to himself, as if he needs the stores for what he believes will be his inevitable internal destruction. Where Bella can’t help but trust and believe in the goodness of others, Lachlan trusts no one and believes everyone is capable of betrayal.

And where Bella would never give up on him, Lachlan is nearly a lost cause, because he has absolutely no faith in himself. Bella sees Lachlans brutality and what, at times, seemed like unmercilous cruelty. But even then, at her core, Bella never loses faith in him. It was that relentlessness that I mentioned earlier that brought them together, because even though Lachlan was the warrior, there was no fight that Bella wouldn’t fight. Nothing that would scare her away from a mission. And damn, Lachlan couldn’t scare her away, no matter how hard he tried.

The journey these two take together is on the scale of epic. It’s rare in a romance novel where you feel that the hero and heroine truly get to know each other. Their relationship spans more than three years. And they are repeatedly thrust together, then torn apart again and again. Battered and broken by others and each other alike. And each time coming back together to moments where they learn more and understand more, until there was no denying what had grown between them over all those years.

It’s telling that during much of the time that Lachlan was committed to Bruce he was wrapped up with Bella. It was as if the world was yelling at them that they were each others missions. It was all about them. That all the suffering and loss, all the hurt and lonliness, their journey…it was all to bring them together. To give them what they needed. To put them where they belonged. Because there was not another sole on Earth who could ever have been right for either of them.

And it was so satisfying when they finally come together. Let me tell you, the sex, the steam, the tension…god damn, it was so hot. So, so hot. Lachlans need was palpable. I love when a man can barely get a reign on his desires and, christ, if Lachlan didn’t lose it a few times. I was not disappointed. One love scene has taken it’s place amongst my favorites. It was everything: erotic and sensual and emotional and tender and angry and loving, all at the same time. It was fire.

And so, I left this book with that feeling that an angst-ridden, gut wrenching read leaves me with. On the verge of tears, overwrought, heart both aching and full, and even a little breathless. God, I loved it!

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