Sunday, December 7, 2008

Saving Grace by Julie Garwood

Book Description:
When Lady Johanna learned that she was a widow, she vowed she would never marry again. Only sixteen, she possessed a strength of will that impressed all who looked past her golden-haired beauty. Yet when King John demanded that she remarry--and selected a bridegroom for her--it seemed she must acquiesce, until her beloved foster brother suggested she wed his friend, the handsome Scottish warrior Gabriel MacBain.

At first Johanna was shy, but as Gabriel tenderly revealed the splendid pleasures they would share, she came to suspect that she was falling in love with her gruff new husband. And it was soon apparent to the entire Highlands clan that their brusque, gallant laird had surrendered his heart completely, But now a desperate royal intrigue threatened to tear her from his side--and to destroy the man whose love meant more to her than she has ever dreamed!

I had a little trouble with this book at first. "What's not to like," I thought. A Highlander medieval by Julie Garwood - my favorite combination! But, this story had some serious overtones, it wasn't a lighthearted comedy of a forced marriage like some of her previous medievals I've read that I've loved. Our heroine, Johanna, had been brutalized by her former husband, Raulf, and she's emotionally scarred by the experience by the time she meets her new intended, Gabriel MacBain. Gabriel is one of Garwood's most forbidding heroes, it takes a long time for him to come around and become a "kinder and gentler" highlander. He's laird, and arrogant and uncompromising at first. I had a hard time growing to like him, he's probably my least favorite Julie Garwood hero that I've read to date. I actually felt a little sorry for Johanna having to have him as her new husband! Still, there were some humorous moments when they wed, but most of the time he barely seemed to have a sense of humor himself, his transformation was slow and deliberate.

But, still the plot was pretty good. Johanna has a secret about King John of England that is partly responsible for him sending her away to marry a Scottish laird in the faraway highlands of Scotland. Later, this will prove to be her undoing, and also her "saving grace." By this time, she has grown to love her gruff husband and nothing is going to stop her from staying with him. The main plotline of this book is probably more to do with strong women rather than a romance between an Englishwoman and her gruff Highlander laird husband.

Over and over the theme in this book is the plight of women in the medieval ages. They were treated wrongly, lesser than animals and the Church preached to men that women had no say in anything. A woman was beaten and punished for the slightest thing in this book, a sobering thought and one that made me cringe. Garwood makes Johanna a strong heroine who overcomes her fears and conquers and vanquishes her enemies who wish to maltreat her and those like her. She unites her husband's two clans and manages to be a matchmaker and sister in common with the other women in this book. It's not easy for her to do these things but she does. She is up against tremendous odds and prejudices because she is an Englishwoman. We see Johanna grow from a scared and lonely widow new to the Highlands, to a strongwilled warrior's wife who stands up for herself and those like her.

The first half of the book was a bit slow going, but the later half of the book got more interesting and exciting. I enjoyed reading about the tension with England and King John and the last 50 pages of the book were especially good. I can't say this book was as steamy or romantic as some of Garwood's others, but I will say that Gabriel does wind up being a good husband, although I still had trouble with his domineering ways and brusqueness. As usual, the descriptions of the time and place are wonderful and the historical aspect of the book is right on as well. Garwood is tops in this regard, one of my favorite historical romance authors!


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