Julie Garwood’s stories were the first medievals I read, which led me to becoming enamored with the medieval sub-genre: Hardy warriors and strong women eking out a living in a harsh environment in harsh times with grace and honor—what’s not to admire?
Those same fierce warriors brought to own up to their feelings for their stalwart women make for scenes that touch the heart and the mind with that swoony feeling.
Garwood’s medievals have become keepers on my shelves, my go-to comfort read of remembered pleasure and renewed appreciation. Her characters brim with personality and passion—and they don’t do anything halfway. They’re fully immersed in life, whether they’re making love or cutting off a man’s head.
Whenever there’s any discussion about the top Garwoods, Saving Grace, Ransom, and The Secret are always mentioned. Of those, Ransom was my first and remains my favorite.
All three of these Garwood books are set in Scotland of the High Middle Ages (1066-1300) and depict lairds who are men of integrity with a strong code of honor and who succumb passionately to brides from much-hated England.
The women, for their part, remain steadfast and bring gentleness, understanding, and love into the harsh lives of these clan leaders. Both the men and the women seek to protect the other from dangers and both respect and cherish the other person’s thoughts and actions.
How do these women adapt to living life under such foreign and difficult circumstances? And how do these men overcome the women’s Englishness and the moral and ethical problems they left behind but which beckon them back?
Under this premise, Garwood tells three very different stories of three very different sets of couples:
“You’ve already made your commitment to me when you admitted you loved me. Nothing else matters. I don’t give a damn how complicated it all becomes. You’re mine now. Do you honestly believe I’m ever going to let you go?”
That’s the heart of who Ransom's hero, Brodick Buchanan, is: a protector and a champion of those whom he cares about. The heroine Gillian, in turn, is also a champion of young Alec, whom she protects at her own peril. Later, Gillian returns to the person who abused her in the past in order to protect Brodick from being harmed. Each seeks to protect the other, and each loves the other beyond everything else.
Johanna turned her gaze to the floor. 'If a pup bit me, I would have a fair chance of surviving, but if a wolf bit me, I don’t believe I would have any chance at all.'
Gabriel McBain took a step towards her. She didn’t back away. He put his hands on her shoulders. His voice was a low, gruff whisper. 'Johanna? I don’t bite.'
Such gentleness from an otherwise ruthless warrior towards someone whom he cares for is who Saving Grace's hero, Gabriel, is. He fears Johanna might die in childbirth and doesn’t care if he reveals his fears to her. The care with which he introduces her to his hellhound Dumfries is another indication of his regard for Joanna and for Dumfries. In turn, Joanna courageously takes charge of fixing his beloved pet’s injury, despite the danger to herself from an angry, injured, ferocious animal. Her care of poor, battered Clare is another testament to her caring nature. Joanna successfully unites the two feuding clans—the MacBains and MacLaurins—whom Gabriel is laird over. Her constant attempt to safeguard Gabriel’s soul and entry to heaven by attempting to reform his character is met with little success, but she doesn’t give up.
Judith hadn’t realized until that moment how much she admired Iain. He was always so certain about everything, so sure of himself. There was an air of quiet authority about him. He didn’t demand respect from his followers. Nay, he’d earned their loyalty and their trust.
'There’s a specific chain of command, and everyone in the Maitland clan adheres to the same rules,' Iain said. 'While you’re on my land, you’ll obey my order, because ultimately I’m responsible for you.'
'Why is that?' she asked.
He let out a sigh, 'Because I’m laird.'
The Secret's Iain Maitland is a leader to the bone; you couldn’t separate the man from his duty, no matter how hard you tried. He assumed his duty when he was made laird as if he’d been born to the job.
But when he meets Judith Hampton, who does not seek to impress him or cower like a submissive subject, she frees him from having to act the laird. Judith admires the leader in him, but to her, he is a man first, a desirable handsome man; everything else is secondary.
Judith is also born to duty: when she takes on a task, such as midwifery, even though it terrifies her, she accomplishes her duty with courage and conviction, giving her all. Both are leaders and cannot help admire and respect each other’s skills.
So am I right in supposing that Saving Grace, Ransom, and The Secret are Julie Garwood’s top three Scottish medievals? If not, which ones would you put on your list?
Keira Soleore is an aspiring Medieval & Regency historical romance writer and the comments moderator for IASPR’s Journal of Popular Romance Studies. On the web, she can found at Cogitations & Meditations, on her website, and on Facebook.