(This is totally Holly’s and Rowena’s doing–blame them)
The Secret, by Julie Garwood
Coming to you by way of the Book Binge ladies, this is one of Julie Garwood old style historical novels–and I didn’t use the term old skool because there’s no rape nor even a hint of forced seduction within, which makes me happy.
The back cover blurb (which renders the title moronic):
Judith Hampton was as beautiful as she was proud, as purposeful as she was loyal. The dear Scottish friend of her childhood was about to give birth, and Judith had promised to be at her side. But there was another, private reason for the journey from her bleak English home to the Highlands: to meet the father she had never known, the Laird Maclean. Nothing prepared her for the sight of the Scottish barbarian who was to escort her into his land…Iain Maitland, Laird of his clan, a man more powerfully compelling than any she had ever encountered.
In a spirited clash of wills and customs, Judith reveled in the melting bliss of Ian’s searching kisses, his passionate caresses. Perplexed by her sprightly defiance, bemused by her tender nature, Ian felt his soul growing into the light and warmth of her love. Surely nothing would wrench her from the affection and trust of Iain and his clan…not even the truth about her father, a devastating secret that could shatter the boldest alliance, and the most glorious of loves!
As par the course, the blurb pretty much gives away the famous secret (Judith is the daughter of Ian’s enemy) but since this is just an ancillary part to the actual story, it doesn’t really signify.
The meat of the novel is Judith’s effect on Ian’s life–not only his personal life, mind, but the changes her very presence in the clan bring. Judith’s loyalty to, and love for, her childhood friend, give her the strength to challenge the status quo, to buck tradition and to, miracle of miracles, come out the winner.
Up to this point, Ian has had little interest in, and less time for, women. His concern as newly elected laird of the Maitlands is to ensure the clan’s prosperity and all his energies are devoted to find ways to maneuver the council. (In Ms Garwood’s rendition of early thirteenth century Highlands, the laird is merely a symbol, real power being held by a group of old warriors– all previous lairds themselves–who preside on clan’s affairs. Governing by committee at its finest/worst.) Judith changes this, her very presence demanding his attention.
It’s not just that she’s beautiful (of course), but that she refuses to fit into Ian’s notions of how English behave and think, or indeed, of what women should be. She’s neither timid nor demanding, quiet or shrill, cold or submissive. What she is is herself, and once he’s seen her and talked with her but for a few minutes, Ian is unable to relegate Judith to a non-entity as he does every other woman of his acquaintance.
For her part, Judith is grateful to be allowed to help Frances Catherine during her late confinement and delivery–and she says all the right things to this effect. Her actions, however, betray a subconscious belief on invulnerability. She does what she thinks is right, not bothering to find out whether or not it’s right under the circumstances or in her present environment until well after the fact.
When I first read this novel–at least fifteen years ago–I was very happy to see an outsider prevail, and most particularly a woman, bringing a fresh perspective to a conservative group, so set in its ways at to slowly strangle itself into oblivion. On this latest re-read, I felt much more impatient with the notion of the enlightened, educated (white wo)man dragging the ignorant (actual word used by Judith repeatedly to describe behaviours and beliefs she doesn’t agree with) and savage heathen (Scot) into civilized behaviour. The repeated use of the term “flaw” to describe things from stubbornness to individuality became increasingly annoying as well.
I confess that while I enjoyed the re-read, there were several elements of the writing that annoyed me–more specifically, Judith herself. She’s a perfect MarySue–everyone but the villainess are enchanted by her and immediately follow her lead. Her thought and speaking patterns are more than a bit disjointed, seemingly designed to highlight her uniqueness, to make her stand out to Ian.
I see that this is the first of Ms Garwood’s novels I have reviewed–which surprised me, actually–and I’m sorry for it, as it does not reflect well what I have most enjoyed about her writing. For any reader contemplating tackling her impressive backlist, I would much rather recommend s/he start with Saving Grace.
The Secret gets a 6.00 out of 10.
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Edited to add: guess what Holly just posted?