I actually enjoyed Julie Garwood's GENTLE WARRIOR, though there's many things wrong with it too. My first book by prolific author Julie Garwood features a very harsh hero from the middle ages (1086), gentle in matters of intimacy, but very rough otherwise. Still, I found GENTLE WARRIOR's prose above-average, the plot had potential for better intrigue though falls short, the settings below average, and the romance not bad at all. I found the relationship between our lead pair, Geoffrey and Elizabeth, interesting to say the least, and not what I'm normally used to from romance novels. There was plenty of teasing between the two, and that had me smiling too. It was refreshing to see the hero helping the heroine for her quest in revenge for a change of pace.
Opposite from the last novel I read (THE DRAGON AND THE JEWEL), I felt GENTLE WARRIOR's harsh hero really didn't deserve his loyal, trusting heroine. Ah, it's always one or the other isn't it? But alas, Elizabeth Montwright gives everything she is -- her faith, her trust, her love -- to her hero Geoffrey and yet Geoffrey holds back until the very end. When Geoffrey finally comes to understand his true feelings for Elizabeth, he still holds back from divulging them to Elizabeth until later. That was cruel in and of itself.
I thought Geoffrey's refusal to share his plans with Elizabeth really led to the danger Elizabeth finds herself in towards the end. She really places a lot of trust in Geoffrey in a very short time, and all he had to do was be more forthcoming with her. But he refuses to be more forthcoming with Elizabeth, obstinately holding to traditional values of a woman's place.
Still, Geoffrey is gentle in his own way, and his rigid demeanor is probably more realistic for the time period than other romantic heroes (Simon from THE DRAGON AND THE JEWEL, for example). I found the relationship between Geoffrey and Elizabeth very unique, and only a few pages into the novel, things get moving quickly as we're treated to a marriage and a love scene. No meek heroine herself, Elizabeth stubbornly challenges Geoffrey's traditional way of thinking and shrugs off his rules in public. For example, Elizabeth pulls up a chair beside (not behind) Geoffrey while he's holding court and hugs him in front of everyone, essentially contesting Geoffrey's traditional rules. Elizabeth challenging Geoffrey formed the highlights of the novel, and were very fun to read as Geoffrey's austere nature slowly crumbles in the face of Elizabeth's gentle affection and stubborn challenges. I thought there should have been more parts of the like. And Geoffrey deserved a dressing down, his harsh demeanor and arrogance was over-the-top, even for me.
Elizabeth Montwright has witnessed the death of her entire family -- her two sisters, her parents and many others. Barely escaping Montwright Manor with her 7 year-old brother and now the heir to Montwright Manor, she now pledges death for who she believes is responsible: her greedy uncle Belwain. Elizabeth is described as strong-willed character, expert with her bow as well. Still, she's probably more affectionate and caring to her hero than any heroine I've read as of late. She's the first to voice the words I-Love-You and trusts her hero like no other heroine I've ever read.
As the story begins, Lord Geoffrey Berkley resolves to expunge his enemies from his vassal's holding at Montwright Manor. Although Geoffrey's forces are successful in reacquiring the manor, he's critically injured. Elizabeth arrives as a peasant to assess the new victors of the manor and to help nurse Geoffrey back to full health. They share an intimate kiss while Geoffrey is still recovering and he cannot forget her. Geoffrey is a very rigid man, he adheres to traditional values of a woman's place, he believes intimacy only appropriate during the night, and often is prone to fits of frightening anger.
At first sight, Geoffrey wants Elizabeth and only few pages into the novel, Geoffrey quickly arranges a marriage after he's recovered from his critical wounds. Elizabeth doesn't refuse, and she reasons that he wants to atone for what befell her family and protect her. A sensual night of passion where Geoffrey shows his gentle side soon follows.
From here on, Elizabeth challenging her new husband's thinking about a woman's place and other rigid rules really represent the highlights of the novel. Geoffrey isn't exactly easy to deal with and often times his anger and shock of Elizabeth's boldness in challenging his rules bring him to the brink of cruelty. Elizabeth's strength of character shines. Although other novels may try to paint a bad or harsh or tortured light on the hero, the said hero is usually a very tender and good guy at heart. But Geoffrey's anger and medieval way of thinking is palpably frightening and you really get a sense of what Elizabeth has to deal with in her hero. As much as her true nature wills it, Elizabeth can't constantly challenge and fight with Geoffrey, and she picks and chooses her battles wisely.
The plot dealing with the party responsible for the murder of Elizabeth's family comes to fruition and it contained some good intrigue. Though the identity of the ultimate culprit was unsurprising, it was good. I think there could have been more political intrigue though. Elizabeth's plight for revenge also takes a backseat to her loyalty and love for Geoffrey, which was interesting, but still unwarranted considering Geoffrey's hot/cold treatment of her.
Overall though, I enjoyed this one, and the novel obviously belonged to Elizabeth. I thought there should have been more scenes of Elizabeth breaking down Geoffrey's rigid demeanor and traditional way of thinking towards women.