SAVING GRACE demonstrates Julie Garwood's panache for extremely light, sweet stories. Her heroines are very sweet, and her heroes are generally rough-around-the-edges but gentle intimately and ultimately very caring. The love between the hero and heroine is always mutually giving, which I very much appreciate in Julie Garwood's stories. Unfortunately, her stories harbor little substance, and her weak prose and settings mire the overall effect. Similar to the THE SECRET, soap-opera-ish conversations and plots saturates SAVING GRACE's content, completely overshadowing the sweetness and humor her stories exude. The pacing of the novel plods along at a snail's pace.
SAVING GRACE hones in on a woman's place from the eyes of the Church and God. One evil bishop's interpretations places women behind dull-witted oxen and other animals in God's eyes. Our heroine Johanna takes this to heart and allows her husband the Baron Raulf to shatter her confidence and self-respect first, and then later, Raulf abuses her physically. When news arrives of Raulf's demise, Johanna is overjoyed. Her brother Baron Nicholas promptly arranges Johanna's marriage to a Scottish highlander, the Laird Gabriel MacBain, a mighty warrior. Since the MacBain lands technically belong to Johanna, Gabriel agrees to the marriage, primarily to acquire the land. At first sight, both are stricken by the other's imposing, handsome appearance in Gabriel's case, and beauty in Johanna's case.
Since Gabriel is a warrior and very rough-around-the-edges, I did enjoy how SAVING GRACE's Johanna manipulates him with tenderness and caring to calm him down first, and then make him forget his anger over her willfulness. For example, when Gabriel is very angry at Johanna for venturing out on her own in search of some barrels of ale to barter with, she touches Gabriel gently on the cheek and neck to completely subdue him. It was funny, and the parallel to petting an angry dog was not missed.
I can't help but draw comparisons between Julie Garwood's heroines and other heroines I often read about in this genre. SAVING GRACE's Johanna was verbally and physically abused, and although she's sweet and gentle, she still shows plenty of strength in her own way. Instead of constantly provoking, antagonizing and bickering with her hero Gabriel, she forges her own unique way with love, tenderness, and apparent submission. She confronts her enemies on her own towards the end, and she does what she feels needs to be done to secure the safety of her clan and Gabriel. She's meek when it suits her, she's stubborn and willful otherwise. I think she's much stronger, more mature than so many of the childish, acrimonious heroines we read about so often.
I'll continue to read Julie Garwood's books despite their sluggish pace and gossiping, soap-opera plots. They're sweet in their own right.