The Viper (Highland Guard, #4)The Viper by Monica McCarty

My rating: 5 of 5 flames

This story begins with our heroine Lady Isabella MacDuff being led into a cage-a cage suspended above the courtyard at Berwick Castle. We see her strength of body, mind and spirit tested, as Bella has finally realized what crowning the Bruce king has cost her. The biggest price? She’s lost her daughter. They had to leave 12 year old Joan behind with her father, which wasn’t an awful fate for the girl since her father loved her, but imagine a loving mother being forced to leave her daughter behind.

I feel that the hardest part about this book was the emotional torment of Bella. Not only did she leave her daughter behind, but Bella was captured, imprisoned, hung suspended from a cage for almost 2 years, she then was forced time and time again to make decisions no mother should have to make. The welfare of her daughter over her own, of course, but the costs were high. Her jailor/tormentor used her daughter as a reason to keep Bella in line. “We will let you write to her, if you…” or “if you escape, we will hurt your daughter…”

Lachlan and Bella’s paths were constantly intertwined, as the two of them spent a lot of time together. He rescued her from her prison, but would she ever allow him close? It seemed that having been an object of lust her entire life, Bella wanted just one man to look at her without that gleam in his eye. But for some reason, when Lachlan looked at her with desire in his eyes, it didn’t bother her as much.

I will definitely say that this is a very emotionally draining book. But Bella has become one of my favorite heroines of all time. She survived so much, she did so much, and she never came off as a perfect heroine, she was flawed, and she was so strong. Not just due to Ms. McCarty’s incredible writing, but this woman was real, her imprisonment in the cage was real. My favorite thing about these books is the vast amount of truth and history woven into the story. I suggest reading the author’s note at the end.

I really like that by the end, Bella was able to see that her husband was not as cruel as she’d originally thought him, that he deserved her pity more than anything, and she was able to let go of many hard feelings (oh don’t get me wrong, the man was an ass, but it was nice to see a heroine look back and see that several things could have been handled differently and maybe her marriage wouldn’t have been as awful as it had been). That’s one of the reasons I love to read Ms. McCarty’s work- she never takes the easy way out. Her characters have to work for their happy ending.

The only thing I missed was seeing the Guard act together more. But I think Lachlan needed to realize that even though he always says he works best alone, that he’s come to depend on the other members of the Guard. And dare I say it, he kind of likes them. There is a scene at the end where he realizes just how much the Guard means to him, and he to them.

My favorite quote from this book was actually at the end. It shows everything from Bella’s spirit, to how not everyone gets the pretty Happy Ever After. Sometimes it’s more bittersweet than that, and you have to work for what you want. I loved that.

“I know you were hoping for a different ending,” Lachlan said quietly.

This war had taken so much from her. But Bella refused to let it cost her her daughter. “It’s not the end, it’s only the beginning.”

With Lachlan by her side, she would fight to the end.

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