Tuesday, May 7, 2013

The Devil's Heart by Cathy Maxwell

If you were with me during the first two parts of the THE CHATTAN CURSE trilogy, you would know that Lady Margaret Chattan's brothers are dying and it is up to her to find a way to break the curse before it is too late. THE SCOTTISH WITCH was progressively darker than LYON'S BRIDE, but this was even darker and spookier. Real powerful and sometimes deadly magic.

THE DEVIL'S HEART starts out with Lady Margaret on her way to Scotland, to the home of the Macnachtans, the namesake of the witch who put the curse on them. It's only by coming face to face with the past will they be able to create a new future--or so they hope. Unfortunately, the spirit of the witch who cursed the Chattans so long ago is not willing to let the Chattans off the hook for killing her daughter, regardless if this generation had absolutely nothing to do with it and are quite lovely people.

But Lady Margaret is desperate to save her brothers and she travels as quickly as she can to the Highlands before it is too late.

After a freak coach accident, Margaret awakens to find herself in the care of the very laird she needs to talk to, Heath Macnachtan. Margaret immediately tells him how she came to be there and why she needed to talk to him--but as you might imagine, she comes across as touched in the head. The family doesn't believe in any curse, though yes, they have heard of it.

Heath has his own problems. He's trying to keep the clan afloat--with no money--and also find the man who murdered his brother. He is actually quite patient with Margaret, whom he thinks is off her rocker, and is very kind to her; and she seems to become just one more of his problems to contend with delicately as he is being encouraged from nearly all sides to sell the land and move on. (The land is unentailed to the title, in this instance.)

Heath does not have the time (let alone money) to fall in love with a crazy lady like Margaret (though she herself does have a fortune that would help, but he doesn't want that either.) Margaret does not want to fall in love with anyone, at all, ever. Of course, all this only leads them both to fall irrevocably in love with each other.

But how do you break a curse? For it seems as soon as Margaret admits she is in love with Heath, the curse begins to wear on her as well. She knows she is dying and there is nothing to be done. Cathy Maxwell made the Black Moment very black in this trilogy--but I shant tell you how it ends.

I want to talk about heroes today. Heath was quite remarkable, I thought. He is a "beta" hero, I believe, but none of the wishy-washiness I have found with some of the betas I've read. He's strong and decisive, a bit stubborn (alpha qualities to me) but is tempered by his kind heart and sensitivity to his clan and sisters, and even that poor crazy Margaret. Is it me, or do heroes seem to be more beta nowadays than the strictly alpha? I still think they're a hybrid, of sorts, but I think readers are no longer afraid to want the romantic fantasy of the Nice Guy. What do you think?


Maureen said...

I think it depends on the genre. Alpha heroes are seen a lot in thrillers...and they are popping up more and more in romance. Used to always be alphas in UF, if there was a male lead... So, I don't know! Interesting! Scifi, fantasy...I gots ta think about it!

quantum said...

This reminds me of Catherine Anderson's 'Perfect Timing' where the heroine using Druid magic travels through time to break a killing curse.

I don't rate Maxwell as highly as Anderson but am still a huge fan. I enjoyed 'Lyon's Bride' and note that 'The Devil's Heart' is available at Audible. Sadly Book 2 is missing from the Audible audio collection, so will this book work as a stand alone Helli? If not I will have to get the e-book of 'The Scottish Witch' first!

Good to see 'Meant to Be' in the displayed covers. I clicked it with mouth watering
anticipation, only to be invited to pre-order. Oh the suspense is killing me!

On the hero question I don't classify em. I'm much more interested in heroines, but no-one uses the Greek alphabet for them. Bit surprising really; especially after yesterday's Women's Lib discussion! LOL

Marnee Bailey said...

I think that there's never been a shortage of women readers who would embrace a more sensitive hero. I mean, honestly, I always found the strictly alpha hero kind of a douchecanoe.

I think the hardcore alpha's a publishing/cultural fixture. Not that the newer hero, the guy who steps up to the plate to do the right thing, can sweep the girl off her feet, and still do the dishes, is a more realistic thing. I think it just reflects what may be a changing view of what women want. We're a very independent crowd. We don't want someone bossing us around. We want someone ready to step in and pick up our slack. Then still have the energy to rub our feet and run us a bath at the end of the day.

This book sounds good though!

Janga said...

Hellie, I think this trilogy is Maxwell's best work.

Maybe the age of the gamma hero--that blend of alpha and beta qualities--has arrived. I love beta heroes, and I don't think the true beta lacks decisiveness, protectiveness, or even sometimes stubbornness any more than the true alpha is incapable of tenderness. Betas just don't have the need to be THE LEADER that drives alphas. If I were listing my ten top romance heroes, they would be mostly betas, but Jo Bev's Rothgar would be on the list--a true alpha, not the kind of alpha ass that appears too often in romance for my taste.

Terri Osburn said...

Q - Two weeks from today! And I know it's available and releasing the same day on Amazon.UK. Preorder and it'll be there when you wake. :)

I could just say "Ditto Janga." I get so tired of the insinuation that beta heroes are weak. They've never been week. And an alpha should not be a jerk, but that's how they are often portrayed. Thankfully, that too is changing.

Terri Osburn said...

And Q, there is talk these days of the alpha heroine, but I've never heard anyone discuss the beta heroine. I guess it's assumed that 99% of them are beta, but that is so not true. Especially not today. They're more powerful and portrayed as leaders across all genres, I think.

MsHellion said...

So, Mo, in the things you're reading, alphas still tend to be the norm, is that what you're saying? :) Though we can discuss Nathan Fillion--he's an interesting blend, right? He's got those alpha qualities, but also sensitive, if his sweet floral bonnet is anything to go by. (Sorry, the GIF of the FIREFLY scene is still in my head and I haven't even watched the series yet. Still.)

MsHellion said...

Yes, you need the 2nd book. There is a character in the second book that shows up in the third book. And she's pretty important...makes more sense if you've read the book.

Q, I think we do more archetypes (as heroines) than alphas or betas, but I think there is a version of an alpha heroine and a beta heroine. Lara Croft, Tombraider, is an alpha heroine; and keeping with the actress, Angelina Jolie in Mr. & Mrs. Smith--Mrs. Smith was HUGE alpha. Brad was practically beta in comparison.

I also tend to term heroines in regencies who don't have a thought about losing their virginity as more alpha, while the ones who are more cautious are beta to me.

I guess that's my biggest distinction for me. Alphas leap off the cliff without looking, then improvise; Betas at least look first so they can get their improvisation out of the way. This is why I think they come across as smarter. *LOL*

MsHellion said...

Marn, yes, alphas are more douche-canoey, but it gives them such an entertaining character arc. You always hope they come around to exhibiting a feeling at least by the end. (Though in Kristin Higgins' The Best Man--he was still constipated, so it was more they just came to understand how each other worked and went on.)

And I do think what you describe is the current modern girl fantasy of a great hero. One who can sweep us off our feet AND sweep the floor. If we have to be all the things, so should they. *LOL*

MsHellion said...

Janga, I agree. I was rather hesitant when I started the series, but was hooked almost immediately. And the books have just gotten more interesting. It's definitely one of the first things I would recommend by her...as well as that vicar/highwayman one. :)

Heath did make it clear several times he didn't really want to be the laird, the leader; and he seemed to value the input of other people before he implemented a plan. BUT I think in doing that, that was what made him a great leader. I think all the values and definitions are changing or maybe our ways of thinking about them are.

MsHellion said...

Two weeks!! Whoot, whoot! And sorry to have touched a nerve about betas. *moves out of striking distance* It's just one of those things. I'm always shocked when Betas aren't weak, when Alphas are found reading a book (he can read??), and when my father says I'm right about something. I mean, it's just SHOCKING. It never happens.

P. Kirby said...

Well, when I hear/read "alpha," I automatically think of the stereotypical grunting, emotionally constipated male, who uses his physical strength to solve problems, and who must be "tamed" by the woman. More often than not, he's also a humorless prig.

UGH! Sorry, but, ugh. To me, that character type is positively simian.

Conversely, "beta," to me, doesn't mean "weak." It doesn't even require a desire to scrub floors or do laundry. It means a man with emotional intelligence, someone with empathy and people skills. It includes men who are physically strong, but who are just as capable of talking their way out of trouble as they of breaking heads. This kind of guy, being smart, it usually also funny, if only in dry acerbic way.

And yeah, Serenity/Firefly's Captain Mal fits the bill. He's the captain of a ship, and a former sergeant in the Independent army. A leader of men. But he's not a huge guy. He gets his ass kicked from time to time. He's bitingly funny, and when the chips are down, despite being a bit of a scoundrel, he does the right thing. He's grounded in hard practicality and still capable of tremendous compassion.

For me, a great hero isn't alpha or beta, but rather, a fully realized human being.

Janga said...

I once told MJP how much I loved one of her heroes that seemed beta to me. She replied that she preferred to think of him as a "warrior-poet." I love that description!

Haleigh said...

I was actually thinking about this the other day, and I was trying to peg the men I work with into alpha or beta categories, and couldn't. Each have some beta and some alpha characteristics, which I think is true for very good characters as well.

But just as Ter gets all twisted up when betas are assumed to be 'weak,' I get all twisted up when alphas are assumed to be jerky grunters. To me, being an alpha male is all about leadership and respect from peers - respect that's earned, not that's demanded by breaking heads.

Pat - you think of Mal from firefly as a beta? He's pretty classically alpha to me. (Though I would say that Nathan Fillion on Castle is beta - Beckett is clearly the alpha in that relationship)

I always use Gibbs are the best example of a true alpha. He can connect emotionally with his team when he needs to, his leadership comes from hard-won respect (though even I can admit he grunts now and then :))

Haleigh said...

I meant Gibbs from the show NCIS if anyone isn't as addicted to that show as I am :)

Terri Osburn said...

Gibbs is in a class all by himself. And that reminds me, I still owe kiddo because she "Gibbsed" me in the kitchen last night. :)

MsHellion said...

Pat, For me, a great hero isn't alpha or beta, but rather, a fully realized human being. WELL SAID!!! Though I'm cracking up at your interpretation of the alpha vs the beta. (Which seems quite a bit like Terri's problem with alphas.)

MsHellion said...

Warrior-poet. I totally see that. I think warriors can be quite romantic--they almost have to be to put their lives behind a cause they most likely could die for.

MsHellion said...

Hal, I'm with you. To me, being an alpha male is all about leadership and respect from peers - respect that's earned, not that's demanded by breaking heads. Though I'm sure they'll say, "That's the alpha being a beta (smart)." I don't think so though. I think alphas tend to make things happen--they can't stand sitting still; and betas tend to go with the flow and won't rock the boat. This is a perfectly fine trait and rather useful, but the flip side to this behavior is you let everyone handle the decisions for you and people get tired of handling them. (Sorry, I'm having a beta faculty day.)

MsHellion said...

I'm glad somebody knew who Gibbs was. The only Gibbs I know ISN'T an alpha or a leader. He's that goofy guy on Pirates of the Caribbean that manages to sleep while Jack's ship is being stolen. *LOL* I assumed HE was not who you meant.

Terri Osburn said...

I think we need to make the distinction between how the alpha interacts with those around him and how he interacts with the heroine. I get that there are natural born leaders who earn and deserve that position. They take charge and are respected, but also care and respect the people they lead.

Then there's the way that same hero interacts with the heroine. I think THAT'S where the jerkiness often comes into play. Because that guy almost always ends up with a heroine who does not take orders well, and has no idea how to deal with her without being a jerk. At least for a little while.

MsHellion said...

That's just assholy behavior. *LOL* You can get your share of "audacious heroines" who boss or play a hero into doing her will--and we don't immediately classify her as an alpha. There are lots of books where the heroine does her usual way of getting things done and the hero doesn't fall in line--and she gets jerky about it. That river runs both ways.

I think it comes down to the distinction, which of these people do we think has the right idea about it (even if they're going about it the wrong way)--if we perceive our world by our filters, wouldn't we filter our fiction the same way?

As Janga is always admonishing us (very nicely) about thinking in absolutes about alpha and betas and maybe the gamma has arrived...a lot of our preference or distaste for certain archetypes has much more to do with our perceptions than the actual archetype. We like what we like.

I just wonder if our filters are maybe opening up to the idea of a much more realized man? Which would be nice, I suppose. God knows they get ticked at the caricature that they're grunty, stupid beasts who would rather fight themselves out of a wet paperbag rather than look for the actual exit and walk out like a normal person. And also, that they have to be so romantic and sweeping--the more evolved version isn't romantically smooth either, but he usually does have a brain and some sensitivity...that's progress.

Haleigh said...

Good point - what comes across as good leadership in giving orders to your team, does not come across the same when those orders are given to the heroine :)