By Julie Garwood, 1993, Medieval Romance
Pocket, $5.99, ISBN #0-671-87011-4
Two reviews of Saving Grace were sent in within days of one another. I thought both reviews did a fine job talking about one of my favorite Garwood releases and so I have included both below. The first comes from one of our review staff and the second was sent by a reader.
English Lady Johanna was married very young to the abusive Baron Raulf, who belittled and beat her. The day she discovers she’s a widow, she falls to her knees to thank God her life in hell is finally over. Her joy is short-lived, however, when King John demands she remarry, another brute of course, to secure her lands and loyalties. But Nicholas, Johanna’s adopted brother, has a better plan. He respects and admires McBain, the warrior-lord who fought for and took possession of Raulf’s castle and lands. Nicholas convinces Johanna to marry the McBain in order to secure without question her late husband’s holdings, and to keep Johanna as far away from King John’s clutches as possible. For King John has a politically incriminating secret, and the king suspects Johanna may know what it is.
Scottish warrior Gabriel, though illegitimate, is held in such high esteem he is laird over two clans, the McBains and the MacLaurins. Although united under Gabriel’s leadership, the two clans behave more like rival siblings, each wanting the laird to like them best. When Gabriel agrees to Nicholas’ plan to marry Johanna, he does so in the hopes the two clans will work together to repair the castle and maintain the lands, forming an emotional bond as the common goal is attained. He views Johanna, and thus her holdings, solely as a means to that end.
Initially fearing her new husband, Johanna comes to appreciate that Gabriel, all square-jawed and arrogant, is tough on the outside, but (here’s the shocker) is really soft-hearted and tender. For Garbriel has recognized the bastard child, Alex, as his son even though the little boy may have been fathered by any one of a number of men. And, through Gabriel’s tender care of her heart and her soul (and her body), Johanna comes to realize how much she loves her giant warrior. So much so that, ultimately, she places herself in mortal danger to save the people she has come to care about, trusting Gabriel loves her enough in return to move heaven and earth to get to her in time.
Not as sensuous as previous books, Saving Grace is yet threaded-through with the sweet love and gracious humor that are Garwood trademarks. Whenever faced with a seemingly insurmountable problem, Johanna reminds herself that, “There’s always more than one way into a keep!” and then proceeds to analyze other ways to solve her problems. The McBains and Maclaurins each insist their lady wear their clan’s plaid on alternating days, and Johanna is interminably being (gently) reminded she’s wearing the “wrong” plaid. Tiring of this, Johanna uses her cleverness to resolve this problem for once and for all. So, while Johanna goes about her business being exactly who she is, Gabriel is falls deeper and deeper in love with his wife, much to his chagrin, and our delight.
When I was a little girl, I would sit before my birthday presents, surveying the brightly wrapped and ribboned packages, carefully opening each one, admiring it, thrilling over it, and then giggling and squirming over those I had left to unwrap. The presents I had opened were wonderful, but they were now known quantities; the gifts remaining to be opened could contain anything! Each time I read a Garwood book, I have the same delectable experience. I admire it, thrill over it, and then giggle at how many I have yet to read. I don’t know what they will each contain, but I know they will be wonderful!
Saving Grace is an enchanting little gift. When you read it, you’ll see what I mean.
— Marianne Stillings
During my reading marathon in this month of January (I’m making up for my lost reading time during the busy month of December!), I paused in between new books to revisit some of my favorite novels by Julie Garwood. The stories were as refreshing and funny as the first (and even second and third times) that I read them, and I was as sorry to see them end as the first time around.
Saving Grace is a wonderful example of Ms. Garwood’s medieval romances. Johanna, a young, golden-haired English Lady, had been married to a cruel, abusive man while barely out of her teens, and while her self-confidence and spirit were nearly beaten out of her during the loveless marriage, she retains enough of both to defy her king when he tries to wed her to another unworthy baron. Through clever manipulation, Johanna manages to delay the unwanted marriage. Her brother, Nicholas, knowing that her reprieve cannot last long, manages to ultimately save her from the king’s clutches, and persuades her to move to the Highlands to wed the recently appointed laird of a burnt-out castle.
Her initial meeting with large, dark and gruff Gabriel McBain does not go well. Nicholas had described the laird as a kind and gentle man; she finds, instead, that he is arrogant, demanding, and prone to giving orders.
Gabriel, on the other hand, while enchanted with Johanna’s beauty, pronounces her too timid, too frail for the rough Highland weather, naive and full of daft opinions.
However, it takes only until the next day’s wedding ceremony for their impressions to begin to change. Johanna’s acceptance of Gabriel’s illegitimate son softens his heart. The fact that Gabriel took in and is raising the boy when he could have denied his existence warms her considerably. The events that follow throughout their first months together continue to reveal their true characters to each other, and an unshakable bond of trust and love is formed that in the end helps them to defeat a royal plot set up against them.
While I often do not stop to analyze why I love particular books, it has always been clear to me why I enjoy Miss Garwood’s works. Using Saving Grace as an example, I appreciate the fact that her hero and heroine do not waste their time and intelligence (or mine, for that matter) with unfounded presumptions or needless inner conflict. The heroine is not afraid to state her opinions or to show her displeasure. The hero, while seemingly brusque and insensitive, is almost from the first accepting and possessive. And when he realizes that he’s fallen in love (something that does not take until the end of the book to occur), he doesn’t deny it or abhor it. Rather he is determined that the heroine will start feeling the same malady!
“She’d snared him all right, blindsided him she had….“There was only one course of action left to him. Johanna was going to have to love him. By God, he wasn’t about to let himself become this vulnerable without gaining equal measure.”
What a wonderful change from the oft-repeated “I’m a warrior, I will not be made vulnerable by such a foolish and soft emotion such as love”.
I also find it delightful that Gabriel and Johanna are committed to each other from the moment they are bound together by marriage vows, and the learning process of compromise and capitulation is heartwarming and more often than not hilarious.
In Saving Grace, Ms. Garwood had me turning the pages as quickly as I could read them. Not only has she created wonderful and endearing characters, her humor had me laughing out loud at the most unexpected moments. Her villains were truly hateful, one of which is, unbelievably, a bishop of the church (his views on women are guaranteed to make your blood boil).
If you haven’t given Saving Grace a try, do it! A very highly recommended novel and one of my all-time keepers.
Margie is the organizer of Celebrate Romance!, a conference for romance lovers to be held in Las Vegas in April 1998. You can access information about the conference at http://www.romcom.com/CelebrateRomance
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