Saving Grace is probably my favorite Julie Garwood book. That being said, I thought she gave the subject of abuse a pretty light treatment. It worked for Garwood. It wouldn’t have worked for many others. Which is why I began Once Forbidden with some hope. Terri Brisbin’s heroine endures a hellish wedding night with an extremely abusive new husband and barely escapes with her life. What raised my expectations a bit was the fact that the heroine wasn’t going to get over this very easily. What lowered my grade is the fact that the heroine not only doesn’t get through her fear, she wallows in it. And the author keeps piling things on her, forcing her to continue wallowing long after it’s ceased to be interesting.
Lady Anice’s ordeal of a wedding night is laid out in a few (admittedly purple on occasion) paragraphs. Getting beyond the “evil dripped from his honey-coated words” it’s clear that her one night with Sandy of the Clan MacKendimen was harrowing. Though Sandy is sent away by his father Struan, the MacKendimen Chief, the consequences of the assault are just beginning for Anice. She’s pregnant and can’t bear to be touched by anyone. Struan promises to protect her and that her place in the Clan is assured when she has the baby.
Anice was traumatized and her fear is real and understandable. Her retreat into her duties as a temporary replacement for the dying steward of Dunnedin, is allowed by Struan. But as her pregnancy advances and becomes more difficult he decides to bring in the steward’s son to take over for Anice. Robert Matthieson is torn about the request to return to Dunnedin. Eight years ago he learned that he was Struan’s illegitimate son and when the Chief refused to acknowledge the relationship, Robert left to be fostered with another clan. Struan’s request for his return doesn’t come with any guarantees and Robert quickly realizes that Struan is still determined to hide their relationship.
Though the author is a bit heavy handed with her Scottish brogue and the men are running around in kilts long before they were actually worn in Scotland, there is still some promise in the opening chapters. Anice’s skittish behavior doesn’t initially weaken her as a character. She’s trying to get on with her life and doing a fairly good job of it. Robert’s arrival and subsequent fascination with his half-brother’s wife is realistically drawn. Their slow-building relationship was just right for people in their situation.
Too bad the author couldn’t just stay with that. Every time Anice was about to move on, the author would throw something else at her to knock her back into the she’s afraid, she’s very afraid mode. Anice’s peace is threatened again and again. Other characters are sacrificed to make sure Anice doesn’t progress. Struan, who feels guilty about what his son did to Anice, vows to protect her – until the author needs to interrupt Anice’s life once again, then he suddenly and inexplicably decides to go along with her father and send her away without her child.
Anice’s never-ending fear isn’t the only problem. As well as behaving unbelievably towards Anice, Struan also keeps his secrets, to the detriment of the clan, long beyond any realistic point. It all ties in to his honor supposedly, but made no real sense, and again the believability of his character is trashed this time to complicate Robert’s life. The inconsistency really compounded the other problems in this book. If Terri Brisbin can tone down the purple prose, stop trying so hard to make these people sound Scottish, and concentrate on her characters’ relationship instead of heaping problems on them, she could probably write a book I’d enjoy. But that’s a big if.