Shadow Music can easily be read as a standalone novel. It begins with a story about a small country with a patron saint St. Biel (The country is named after the saint). The story is a simple and clever piece of work by the author.
The people of St. Biel want to get their hands on the last of the royal bloodline – Princess Gabrielle, who they believe knows the location of the mythical treasure of St.Biel. Her father is Lord Geoffrey, an important man in the English Court. And that is the only reason that Gabrielle, who also happens to be a stunning beauty, is left alone.
The English King decides that a marriage between Gabrielle and one of the Highland’s Laird will be beneficial to him. He feels threatened from the Scots and therefore sweetens the marriage deal by announcing that Gabrielle’s dowry would include Finney’s Flat (an important piece of land much coveted by the Scots).
On her way to the abbey where her marriage was to take place, Gabrielle saves a man’s life. However, her good deed doesn’t go unpunished. A while later, she suffers through a sinister and cruel plot which leaves her reputation in tatters. Her cousin (by marriage) Laird Buchanan asks his friend MacHugh to save Gabrielle’s reputation by taking her for his wife. MacHugh is obligated to agree.
It is intriguing to notice that the hero and heroine don’t actually meet each other for at least the first quarter of the story. There are some stereotypes though. The heroine is so pretty that people can never ignore her. The hero is so brave and mysterious that he is feared as a legend.
What helps in overcoming the stereotype is the romance. It is not insta-love. It is not just lust. Colm is drawn to Gabrielle’s loving and giving nature. And Gabrielle is attracted to his protective and caring self. There is definite sexual attraction, but it is mixed with action, suspense and a developing understanding.
I thoroughly enjoyed the romance and found the narrative amusing. Gabrielle challenged Colm constantly and made him notice her. She gave him a lot to think about. In fact, I found both of them a little modern in their views.
I admired Gabrielle for her opinions and sense of humour. She is very much an innocent but does not flinch from taking a life to save another. She knows right from wrong. And though she is constantly protected, she does not become subservient or timid. She shows remarkable intelligence and grace while facing trouble. I admired Colm as well. He was protective, but not so much that Gabrielle feels bound.
Since I have read other works by Julie Garwood I cannot say this book is great. But I did find it to be a good balance of historical elements, mystery, wit, and romance. The book has a vivid plot with four folds – the mythical treasure of St.Biel, the danger in Highlands, the traitorous politics of the English, and the romance that brews between Gabrielle and Colm MacHugh. No part of it overwhelms the other, and that is its beauty. Shadow Music has spoonfuls of brilliance, pinches of angst and punches of amusement that in my opinion, contribute in making it a good read.