Saving Grace is a stand-alone novel by Julie Garwood. I like historical romances; I like Scottish historical romances even more.
Johanna, a young woman married to an English Baron receives the news of her husband’s demise from a priest and one of her husband’s men. She asks for solitude to pray and her prayers are composed of three words: “Thank You God!”. Johanna was a child bride who was married to a man who was ruthless. She was also a victim of spousal abuse.
After being liberated from her husband’s vile machinations, Johanna is naturally averse to marriage and the possibility of depending on another man. But she cannot remain unmarried because, during her captivity in her husband’s home, she stumbled upon a secret that could very well lead to her death. King John of England suspected that her knowledge might drag him into troubled waters even further than he was in at that point of time, and therefore wanted Johanna out of his way or married to one of his loyal and brutal subjects. Both would have been equally satisfying to him. What he could not allow was Johanna’s freedom.
To save Johanna, her brother Nicholas asks his friend Gabriel MacBain (a Scottish Laird) to marry Johanna. It would provide Clan MacBain legal rights to the land they claimed as their own. For his Clan, Gabriel agrees. He then has to convince Johanna that she would be safe with him, and that he doesn’t care that she is barren.
The story then focuses on the clan, Johanna’s new life, and how she travels a long distance from being someone who was scared of her own shadow, to someone who stood up against her enemies without a hint of fear in her eyes. There are a number of twists, but they are evenly spaced. The final showdown where the enemies are brought to heel is depicted very well and the epilogue is a cherry on top. The title is justified many folds (though it was not needed), and rendered in a manner which flows with the story.
Johanna’s character is a strong one. She has been a victim, but she is determined not to become one again and to not act like she has suffered before. It is a strong pulse which beats throughout the story. Afterwards, Johanna’s character does not emerge as Miss-Goody-two-shoes either. Rather she is witty and can be very mean. And it is actually gratifying to watch. Gabriel’s considerate behaviour is portrayed with a loving warmth. At first he does try to cosset her, but it is because of his own harsh experiences. From the very first instant he is with her, his protection is born out of honest feelings and not duty. It is only later that he realises that his childhood wish for a family came true with Johanna.
The hero is a handsome warrior, and the heroine is beautiful but though that fact incites lust, it does not cause love. Both of them look beneath the skin to look at the true heart of each other and it is that they love, flaws and all. And yes, they do have flaws. Honestly, that makes the book an even better thing to read.
It is clear that the author does not create flawless characters but provides them with enough incentives throughout the story to improve. The novel has some light angsty moments but no excessive drama. Be it any character’s pain or joy, it has been portrayed with a subtle yet impactful hand. The narrative is not restricted to the point of view of only 1 or 2 characters. But all these voices are handled in a pragmatic manner which actually provides the readers with a better picture rather than diverting the attention to inconsequential things.
The story also focuses on the Scottish clans that feature in the backdrop along with the romantic angle. We see two clans merging reluctantly and it is an amusing process. Nicholas has his own small part in the story and it is a good addition. The author also brings up few feminine issues and their treatment in relation to religion but, it is done with a clever hand, outlining the issues without overwhelming the mind. If the readers choose so, they can ignore the issues and read the book with the aim of light reading.
I do not know whether her story is historically correct or not. What I do know, is that I enjoyed this novel very much. I confess Julie Garwood is one of my favourite authors when it comes to Historical Scottish Romances. The author has a minor tendency of following a pattern when it comes to historical romance novels, but I still prefer reading her stories to other authors of the same genre.