His Saving Grace
I’m not sure exactly what I expected when I picked up this book for review. The synopsis speaks of the deeply emotional tale of two devoted lovers facing the ravages of war, and – well, this is going to sound silly, but – that’s exactly what this story is. I suppose I’m so used to reading a book blurb and struggling to relate it to the actual book that when I find one that’s more or less exactly as described, it’s something of a shock!
In any case, His Saving Grace is indeed a deeply emotional tale which explores the problems faced by a married couple when the husband, presumed to have been killed during the Crimean War, returns home rather a different man than the one who left almost a year previously. There is, obviously, a strong romantic element to the story, but it’s really a book about the protagonists learning to deal with the difficulties they face in re-making their life together, and for the hero in particular to find a way to move on with his life and look for the positives rather than dwelling on the things he can no longer do and the man he no longer is.
At the beginning of the book, Lady Grace Ashworth, the Dowager Countess of Blackbourne, is summoned to meet with her brother-in-law Nigel, the earl since his brother’s death, and is informed that he has decided she should marry again. Grace is upset and annoyed; for one thing, only ten months have elapsed since she was devastated by the news of the death of her husband, whom she had loved very much, and for another, she’s well aware that Nigel wants to get her off his hands so the income she receives from the estate can be diverted into his own pockets.
Nigel’s gossipy wife, Clara, very quickly disseminates the news of Grace’s impending marriage to Sir Clayton Timmons (who is continually, erroneously, and annoyingly referred to as “Sir Timmons” instead of “Sir Clayton”) – a young, handsome and kindly man – and Grace, while not appreciative of Nigel’s methods or motivations, finds herself wavering. She’s heartsick and lonely, and thinks that perhaps a marriage for the sake of companionship might not be a terrible idea.
But before she can dwell any further on that thought, she receives a completely unexpected visitor in the form of her husband, Michael – alive and perhaps not exactly well, but her husband nonetheless.
Grace is naturally overjoyed – but quickly realises that all is not well, and that the man she is only too glad to welcome back is a very different man to the one she had married.
Michael received a severe head injury during a battle and would have died on the field were it not for the fact that he was discovered and taken away by a Cossack warrior, named Tarik. Tarik cared for Michael during the long period of his recovery and has travelled with him to England. At first, Grace is suspicious and resentful of this large, taciturn man, whom she believes has usurped her place as the person caring for her husband. But as she comes to know more about Michael, the nature of his injury and how it continues to affect him, she becomes grateful for the Tarik’s insight and care.
Michael’s injury has left him with a number of problems, most of them concerning his memory and ability to retain information. He is constantly frustrated by his inability to find the right words; for example, early in the story he thinks of his wife’s hair as “yellow”, being unable to remember the word “blonde”. Or rather, it’s not a case of his not being able to remember, sometimes, it’s as though he never knew the word at all. Having only recently come into the earldom, he is anxious about his ability to be able to carry out all the duties incumbent upon the management of a large estate, worried that his brother may try to oust him – and is filled with despair because he hates the idea that he has saddled his beloved wife with a broken man.
Michael and Grace have many obstacles to overcome in their attempts to adjust themselves to a new way of living. Grace is an incredibly strong woman, determined to do whatever it takes to keep Michael with her and to help him to adjust, but she is up against an equally strong personality who is so adamant about his failings that he finds it difficult to see beyond them. That’s not to say that he doesn’t have reasons for that, and I suspect that, were I in a similar situation, I’d find Grace’s determined optimism annoying at times, too!
I can’t deny that this is, at times, quite a difficult read. Grace is desperate to help Michael and while he wants to be with her, he also continually tries to push her away, not wanting to subject her to the ravages his disability continues to wreak upon him. But ultimately, it’s an uplifting and very emotionally satisfying story, and from reading the author’s notes, it’s clearly a story that has great meaning for her – and that shows in the care with which she has crafted it. His Saving Grace is a very well written novel and both protagonists are strongly characterised. The emotions that lie between them – both good and bad – are well realised and in fact, those moments in which one or other of them snaps under the stress of their situation serve to make them feel like real people rather than just characters in the pages of a book.
You may be asking why I haven’t made this a DIK. That’s mostly because one of the criteria I use to award a DIK is that the book is one I could stand to re-read. And while HSG is certainly a very well-written and poignant tale, it’s a little too emotionally”raw” a story to be one I can see myself returning to very often. Nonetheless, His Saving Grace is an intense and moving story, and I have no hesitation in recommending it highly.