In this splendid New York Times bestseller, Julie Garwood brilliantly crafts the majestic story of a young Englishwoman determined to fight for her freedom...a woman whose life would be transformed by the rare, unexpected gift of love.
When Lady Johanna learned that she was a widow, she vowed she would never marry again. Only sixteen, already 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 had ever dreamed!
This is one of my top 5 favorite Julie Garwood books. I absolutely adore everything about it from the setting to the characters.
The overall message - that women are just as important as men - could have become preachy, but it didn't. Joanna dealt with a lot during her first marriage and I like that Garwood addressed her issues. She was a strong character who really came into her own throughout this book. My heart ached for her and all she endured.
Set in the 1200's, one of the best aspects of the novel is how well it portrays the way women were treated. Women had no rights then and were treated hardly better than family pets. Lady Joanna was married off to Baron Raulf at a very tender age. After three years of hell, he's killed while on a mission for the king. After the abuse - both mental and physical - she suffered, she never wants to marry again. Unfortunately she doesn't have a choice. She found some damning evidence against the king and he wants her married off to one of his most loyal barons. One who is just as bad - if not worse - than her first husband.
Instead her brother Nicholas convinced the king to allow her to be married to Gabriel MacBain, a highland laird. The land Gabriel's keep is on actually belongs to Joanna. His father sold it to her husband, and upon his death it reverted to her. Though he wants nothing to do with an Englishwoman, he's willing to marry her to gain the land.
Joanna started out as a very timid, scared girl. She'd been well trained to fear men, and though her dead husband hadn't been able to beat the spirit out of her, she was still cautious. But as the novel progresses we see her become a strong, courageous woman.
Gabriel I loved right from the beginning. His honor and strength were immediately evident, but it was his caring and compassion with Joanna that won me over. Although it frustrates him that she's so timid and afraid of him, he's still very patient with her. He shows her, through his actions, that he cares for and will keep her safe. His annoyance with himself over his feelings for her cracked me up. So did his ideas about how she should behave.
Because of the subject matter this could have been a dark book, but Garwood really put a lighter spin on it. There is humor laced throughout. I found myself laughing out loud more than once. Especially once Joanna decides to take charge of her life and put her home in order. Her interactions with all the men and women of Gabriel's clan were funny and very sweet.
The secondary characters added additional flavor. The MacBain and Maclaurin clan members were especially hilarious as they tried to "instruct" Joanna on what was proper and how they should be treated.
This book has flaws. Like all of Garwood's heroines Joanna borders right on the cusp of being too perfect. She's sweet and kind and loving and beautiful and modest and strong and clever and courageous...which should have made her annoying, but I think there was enough balance with the other characters to make it work. Garwood's writing style is..unique. It takes some getting used to. She often jumps from POV to POV, which can be distracting.
Joanna's dead husband wasn't a very original character. Nor was he very scary. Men like him generally aren't..in the end I just found him to be pathetic. I do think Garwood did well with Bishop Hallwick, though. He wasn't a very original character, either, but he was very real. I could easily see corrupt men of God just like him existing during that time.
My biggest issue with this book is that there is no sequel. Garwood left some things open (regarding secondary characters) that I would love to see resolved. I hope she decides one day to go back to it.
Despite those small issues, I'd have to call the love story flawless. This is one of Garwood's finest.
4.75 out of 5
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