Morgan & Whitney Dish: The Guardian By Margaret Mallory

This week, Whitney and Morgan Dish about The Guardian the first book in Margaret Mallory’s new The Return of the Highlanders series

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Morgan: I choose this week’s selection because I loved the reviewer’s summary of the story and how, when the hero, Ian MacDonald, returns home after years of war he “assumes his responsibility, vowing to win [the heroine Sileas’] respect and create a real marriage.” Characters that grow and change always get my attention. Oh, and it doesn’t hurt that he wears a kilt. Nothing wrong with that!

Whitney: I tend to stick to the Regency era for my historical romances, but I’m glad that you selected this medieval tale. It’s much less cold-drafty-castle than I thought it would be. Instead, it’s much more about “passionate hearts on the Highlands.”

Morgan: When we first spoke about the book you called it “cute”. This is not really the way I would describe it. This book is violent and sad, but has a lot of other emotions as well. It really puts that lump in your throat and makes you tear up. 

Whitney: You know what this story reminded me of? Julie Garwood’s … you know, the one where the girl drools on him (when she’s little and he’s older, obviously) and she’s all “One day I’m going to marry you,"  I’m talking about the Scottish one, not The Gift. Okay, so maybe I’m mixing up my Garwoods. So this story has a very different set of circumstances, and even though this heroine loves the hero she doesn’t plan on getting married to him at — what is she? Thirteen? ... All right, The Guardian is almost completely different from the Garwood except that Sileas loved Ian when she was little and they were forced to marry. Now he’s back and is going to fall in love with her. She’s loved him forever and now he’s back to win her heart and save her castle, and all of that sounds pretty cute to me!

Morgan: OK, I agree with you that there is an inherent cuteness factor because of the whole ugly duckling story line happening. When Ian leaves her, Sileas is a gawky 13-year-old with wild hair, skinned knees and overly large teeth. When he returns five years later she has blossomed into a beautiful woman. Is it OK to admit here that I really am not a huge fan of the ugly duckling/beautiful swan plot? I have a problem with the way that, at first, Ian ONLY sees her body.

Whitney: Though I do like the ugly ducking trope, Ian takes it to a new extreme with his initial thoughts about grown-up Sileas.

Morgan: It makes me sad to think that as a child Sileas’ strength and loyalty were discounted because of her less-than-stellar appearance. She has always been a wonderful person, but Ian is only willing to give her a chance at their marriage because she has turned into a beautiful woman.

“For five long years, he had planned to end the marriage as soon as he returned. He’d harbored not a single doubt...But he made that plan before she turned into this enchanting lass...”

Whitney: Lucky for Ian — and the readers who will come to love him — Sileas is able to teach Ian the error of his ways.

Morgan: Ian is definitely the typical “clueless” man at the beginning. He has been gone for five years without a word and expects Sileas not only to welcome him home, but also to be grateful to him. I wanted to hit him as hard with a skillet as Sileas does. He deserved to be knocked out.

Whitney: That was a pretty awesome moment of woman power. Sileas has a skillet and is more than willing to use it on a grabby-hands-guy. She was being proactive about Ian’s reaction to her, and skillet wielding looked good on her! 

Morgan: But she can’t stay mad at Ian for long. They just have too much history. He took care of her when she was younger, and so as soon as Ian begins to focus more on her needs, Sileas (and the reader) can’t help but forgive him. 

Whitney: I had a pretty hard time moving past the first quarter of the book because of Ian's reluctantance to appreciate anything about Sileas other than her rockin’ bod. But once Sileas forgave him, I kind of figured if she could get over his initial focus on her looks, I could too. Plus, I don’t doubt it’s easier to be all “Look at my hot wife. Score!” than it is to think about how much he missed and how guilty he felt about it. With that in mind, Ian became a lot more likable.

Morgan: The relationship he had with his friends was also a huge plus in his favor. Ian, Connor, Duncan and Alex are more than just friends, they are like brothers. There is no resentment or jealousy, only bone-deep loyalty. The four of them will do anything for each other. So clearly Ian is redeemable.

Whitney: Another factor in his favor is the way that once he comes back he pretty quickly starts helping out around the house and making plans to get back Sileas’ castle from the rival clan that has taken it over. I was expecting this book to have more fighting in it and maybe even for Ian to have to go off to war again. Instead, The Guardian has just the perfect amount of action to keep things interesting but takes some unexpected twists and turns.

Morgan: I enjoyed that the story focused on what happened on the homefront when the men were off fighting. 

Whitney: Mallory did a good job of cementing all of the action around the MacDonalds’ home when she worked in having Ian’s friend Alex and the town light-skirt (turned maid), Dina, also come live with the MacDonalds for most of the story. Ian’s family is where Sileas’ heart is, so it makes sense that The Guardian keeps everyone together.

Morgan: I loved the relationship between Sileas and Ian’s family. The only reason the MacDonalds survived while Ian was away was because she had been willing to do everything from nursing Ian’s wounded father and mucking out animal stalls, to keeping track of the estates budget and doing the dishes after meals. Sileas is completely devoted to the MacDonalds. I thought it was really interesting that several times she mentions that the loss of Ian’s family would be an even bigger blow than losing her estranged husband who has not been a part of her adult life. 

Whitney: That worked really well for me, too. If Sileas had been a Mopey Maggie about how much she loved the man who let everyone know he didn’t want be her husband, and how much she missed him and thought about him every day … Well, that’s just not Sileas. She’s a pretty go-getter heroine, which I am definitely a fan of. 

It was also nice to see Ian come back and be able to help shoulder her burden, even Wonder Woman can’t do it all. I think that Mallory did a good job of illustrating that Ian wasn’t saving Sileas when returned, he was simply finally home to help shoulder the burden, as an extra pair of hands that was not only welcome but necessary. When he headed off to France it left a large Ian-shaped hole in the family dynamics.

Morgan: And nobody was willing to give Ian a pass for his bad behavior. Everyone — including his parents — is justifiably angry that he left to fight in a foreign country while his own family was being targeted by their enemies. But Sileas was definitely the most vocal with her censure. 

Whitney: During The Guardian, Sileas absolutely steals the show. Mallory crafted such a strong and independent heroine, this is a woman I’d want to know. She had some crazy skills, but those are tempered by vulnerabilities as well. It was lovely to see Ian become the man that Sileas had thought he would be when she was following him around when they were both kids. By the end of the story I liked Ian but I adored Sileas. (Although that have something to do with the fact that I like my alpha heroes to be extremely alpha. I’ll tell you, I am really looking forward to Connor’s story!)

Morgan: Agreed. There are lots of places to go with Connor, the newly appointed chieftan. But there’s also Duncan who has watched his one true love marry someone else and Alex, the consummate ladies man who never wants to marry. These stories promise to be great as well. There’s nothing quite like getting in on a new series on the ground floor.

Whitney: Mallory totally got me invested in the entire series with The Guardian’s prologue about the men as boys getting their romantic futures told at the witch’s hut. I am now itching to see how all four of their prophecies turn out!

Morgan: Oh and lets not forget Niall, Ian’s younger brother. He may only be 15, but he is a real hero in the making. 

Whitney: So true, and he and Sileas have that touching moment when — nope, I am not giving that away. You guys will just have to read about it yourselves.

To check out everything we chatted about today, and all the things we didn't want to spoil for you, you can pick up your own copy of Margaret Mallory’s The Guardian in and while you are there you can also take a look at the novel we will be Dishing about next week, a Young Adult tale from debut author Veronica Roth, Divergent!

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