The Sweetest Sin
While this was an easy, engaging read for me, the book suffered both from a surfeit of cardboard villains and too much fighting between hero and heroine for it to be a truly satisfying read. Most times, it’s hard for me to pinpoint exactly where I stop enjoying a book. Sometimes the events of the book gradually become more disappointing, however, I know exactly when this one turned the corner for me, and if I could’ve written a different ending from that point on, I would have.
Duncan MacRae is the epitome of a tortured hero. His wife was killed on their wedding day, he was taken prisoner by the English due to the treachery of an evil woman and his own brother, and while a prisoner, he was tortured and maimed. His only thought for thirteen years was to get revenge on the Clan MacDonnell, who destroyed his life and his clan. The cause of his downfall was the evil Morgana MacDonnell who wanted Duncan and the powerful MacRae amulet for herself. When he refused, well that old “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned” figure of speech was an understatement. The amulet is imbued with special powers that can be used for good or evil. (Hmm, why did Morgana need that amulet again? Oh, right, she’s evil.)
When Duncan’s home was attacked, the MacDonnells stole the amulet, and it has been in the keeping of Morgana’s younger sister, Aileana, ever since. Aileana’s father was so disgusted by Morgana’s witchcraft that he banished her. After betraying Duncan, his brother Colin left the MacRae clan to follow Morgana. Both are reputed to have died. Aileana has been kept away from any taint of evil, to the point she has been locked away in a tower with only her brothers and father as occasional visitors. When the MacRaes attack, she leaves the tower to take the amulet to safety and ends up with Duncan at her heels. Aileana manages to hide the amulet before Duncan catches her.
In order to save her clan, Aileana offers herself up to Duncan as his leman and is taken back to the MacRae keep. The interaction between Aileana and Duncan is fierce, but with an undercurrent of attraction between both of them. Although they are enemies, they begin to grow closer to each other, and Duncan’s clan becomes more accepting of Aileana as she stands up for herself and works hard to help the sick, especially when the bubonic plague visits. However, just as they are developing their relationship, and cautiously bantering back and forth with each other, Aileana’s jealousy gets the better of her, and a practical joke committed as revenge goes too far. The two of them manage to overcome Aileana’s monumental stupidity – which shows the strength of both their characters – and it’s at this point that the villains make their move.
The villains of the book are completely one dimensional and their incessant power-hungry “vengeance is mine” attitude gives the book a sour note. There is enough conflict between Aileana and Duncan that the external fight against the villains wasted precious space that could have been used to further the relationship between the lead characters. Aileana has her own turmoil over who should keep the amulet, as does Duncan, and just working that out between them provided enough to keep them busy. I enjoyed the interplay between them, as both must choose to overcome years of feuding and misconceptions in order to love each other. They both make the right choice, but the strength of that choice is overshadowed by the ridiculous conclusion involving a battle for their lives.
The story ends up in the standard good vs. evil struggle, with both Aileana and Duncan involved in terrifying and dangerous situations, closing with their eventual triumph. Kiss, hug, everyone goes home happy. There is nothing in the ending to surprise the reader, and I felt let down by the promise this book demonstrated. While this certainly wasn’t a terrible book by any stretch of the imagination, the unnecessary villains definitely cast a pall over the ending, and it ended with an air of disappointment.