The Scottish Witch
by Cathy Maxwell
(#2 of The Chattan Curse)
When I first reviewed this, I mentioned that Romance is the only genre in which I can start mid-series and not freak out. This is not always true, since I remember accidentally skipping over one of the Turner books and then I never read it because it wasn’t as good as Smite’s book. However, in this case, Overdrive said this was book 1, but it’s not, and that’s okay. In fact, after reading the other two, it turned out to be my favourite of the series, for objective reasons, not “Well book 2 already spoiled it so they just can’t be as good” reasons.
First there is a bit of prologue where we learn that Rose fell in love with a Chattan, and that she even carries his child, but he has abandoned her to marry an Englishwoman for money. She killed herself out of grief, and her mother, Fenella, built her a funeral pyre as per The Old Ways, as the newer Christian religion had excluding ideas about how to bury suicides. Also per The Old Ways, Fenella curses the entire Chattan line and leaps onto the funeral pyre with her daughter’s body.
The nature of the curse makes itself known when the perfectly healthy Lord Chattan suddenly dies. And what a tragedy too, since his wife is expecting a child, and he’s begun to feel that he truly loves her.
The Chattan curse is pretty efficient. Every Chattan man falls in love, fathers a son, and then kicks the bucket. Then one of them got a little ahead of the curve. He married someone he didn’t like much. He later succumbed to an affair, but his children, Neil, Harry, and Margaret, already has this amazing reason to think love is a really bad idea. Thanks to the events of the last book, Neil is soon to be the curse’s latest victim, so Harry is running around trying to find a witch who can put a stop to the whole business.
Portia Maclean and her family have retrenched all the way to Scotland, thanks to her philandering father dying and leaving them penniless. Her mother is a lazy, manipulative shrew, and her sister is sweet but thwarted in her hopes to marry a nice country doctor. (thwarted by their mother, of course) It’s down to Portia to take care of adult things like the rent. When she hears about Harry Chattan offering money to a witch, she decides to play the part. Despite not having a clue regarding why he wants to find a witch.
Part of the reason that she thinks she can play a witch is that she found a spellbook in the attic. It clearly belonged to Fenella and Rose, but there doesn’t seem to be anything to help with the curse in it. The nicest thing about this one is that sceptisim in the face of the curse is at an all-time low. Harry has no reason to disbelieve it, and Portia takes him seriously for the most part, and much earlier than any of the other characters in her similar position throughout the series.
She’s a dreamer, but in a nice way. She has a hard time seeing her family, her sister in particular, suffer. Her mother and everyone else have relegated her to spinsterhood just because she is plain.
There’s also a cat named Owl, and a host of other funny but not intrusive characters, like Crazy Lizzie and Mr Oliver Tolliver. What were his parents thinking? I love all the fantasy elements. They reminded me of that one weird soap opera. Had dwarves and a really crazysauce witch. I listened to the audiobook while reading the text in Scribd, and my husband remarked at least twice about how much I was loving this book.
The writing isn’t flawless, but it is good enough and bolstered by the story and characters that I don’t remember having any issues with the style or technical skill. The beta romance between Monty and Lady Maclean was cute. It might have been improved by something, but darned if I know what that is. It was Pair the Spares done right.
My one possible problem would be with the pacing. It seems to go a little too fast, but only sometimes. Like when they sort of almost literally tumble into intercourse (tumblecourse?). She’s a virgin, and it’s a little too…smooth. I’ve had a lot of discussions with Hubby about how sex is not something you can really do by accident, but if you could, it would probably look like this. I remember blinking and going back to reread it to be sure that that had really just happened.
The ending is also kind of vvvvVVVOOOOOMmmmmm blink and you miss it. It’s a good ending. It just reminds me of when I used to try to finish writing a chapter before I had to leave for my shift. TYPE LIKE CRAZY HURRY UP OKAY NOW GET IN THE CAR! Kind of a thing. The way it sets up the next book is wonderful at any speed, though.
Basically, Portia and Harry get caught together because people thought she was missing. She’s ruined, but she’s kind of pragmatic about it since everyone always said she’d never marry anyway. Harry can never love her, nor anyone else. Because of the curse. She’s pretty sure she’s pregnant too. He insists on marrying her because of the whole Ruined thing, but she refuses, because Portia Does Not Settle, Thank You. Harry comes to has senses like a boss and asks her to marry him again the right way and for the right reasons, and then his sister is a bitch at the wedding because of the curse. Also, Margaret is just kind of a bitch, I’m sorry. She really isn’t any better in her own book.
The fantasy elements of a very real curse, the cat that only those affected by it can see, and the witches both faked and real, made this feel very like the historical romance equivalent of urban fantasy. It doesn’t share a lot of the same flaws, though, which is awesome. Personally, I would tell people to skip the first book and just start here. While the previous romance is relevant to what’s going on here, this romance is more interesting, the characters much more compelling, and everything you need to know from the first book is presented entirely without the PREVIOUSLY ON sort of exposition.