I don’t think I’ve ever read Julie Garwood till this book. When I was younger, I usually stayed away from books where there was an attempt to write heavy dialect, especially Scottish, because many tries by authors—especially by white American authors—were just plain bad. It came off as inauthentic and offensive to the culture in question. I dunno how said cultures feel about those attempts. I would be curious to learn. That would be an interesting perspective and essay to read.
Johanna Lindsey was one of those American authors: A Gentle Feuding was an early attempt; Tender Rebel of the Malory-Anderson series, a later one—the latter not as painful as the former. Recent rereads of Johanna’s earlier work demonstrates to me her ability to evolve as a writer. I wince-read through a few of her 1970s-80s work recently since my last historical romance review—like A Gentle Feuding—with a degree of both dismay and recognition that with practice and wisdom she—like all of us, hopefully—do get better eventually. Maybe? Definitely for her. I do have to warn y’all that Captive Bride is one of her worse books and I read it all just cause I was astonished it had even gotten published, and it was by Johanna Lindsey. One of the reasons, other than the misogynist plot, is the over use of what Elena Ferrante refers to as the pha!!ic symbol of punctuation. I cannot stand heavy uses of exclamation points. It drives me crazy. Austen does it too but one could debate whether her use is ironic. With a few good elements to the story, Captive Bride was so bad that I couldn’t put it down—the amateur writing stunningly bad. I, however, find significance in reading mediocre and bad books—it provides me some hope about my own writing; tells me what I should/shouldn’t write, or allows me a sense thereof; gives me an idea of what was historically acceptable at the time of publishing; and, still enriches me with a great deal of inspiration and creative thought and ideas—I love taking anything and everything down the ole rabbit hole. So, I’m not one to dismiss badly written books because there is a certain value in them, even in books written in clumsily authored dialects. Opinions, like reviews, are subjective and arbitrary so what one mediocre or bad book is to someone, it is a favorite to another.
Fortunately, Garwood doesn’t go the clumsy dialect route in her Highland novels. I inhaled these books—or the ones I could freely get my hands on from the library without leaving my house. On the fourth book, I recognized a pattern. It didn’t bother me so much as distract me for the briefest of moments. Her female characters are fun and independent with some quirky habits that come off as endearing, especially when the male protagonists get so flustered about them—who doesn’t love a flustered male. The males are big and blustery Scottish Highland warriors and such, which is eye-rollingly okay to a point; I mean, it was the 12th century and things were bad for women (all relative in women’s history) and women supposedly needed a big beautifully passionate side of beef to keep them safe, pregnant and sexually satiated (if they’re fortunate) so…these male protagonists were entertaining and some even charming and witty; all were compassionate and autocratic demanding obedience until, you know, love and lust then they were a bit more lenient—go figure. The female protagonists are usually English brides that are attempting escape from those damn brutal dullard Englishmen and their cruel pious priests, or they’re pawned off as property for land and peace, which rarely seems to happen in ye old patriarchy—go figure.
One of the things I found fascinating about the books is the difference between the English and Scottish Christian religious precepts during the time, and there is a lot of religion. That normally puts me off a book but Garwood deftly incorporates religion into the plot as to not be overwhelming or annoying and still manages to keep the sex hot and descriptive—a definite must. I dunno if the religious details are historically or culturally accurate. The books are entertaining and amusing and that is definitely the biggest attraction to these books—the humor.
While I was reading all these books, I was watching The Last Kingdom on Netflix and reading the book The Last Kingdom by Bernard Cornwell. I dunno what prompted me to get into this fit of medieval entertainment—I think it was this tweet. I wanted to see if they were really as bad as all that. I don’t really have enough knowledge on the subject to form an opinion and will defer to Dr. McMillan Cottom’s wisdom in that regard. I do find the dark wit and humor of these two authors extremely entertaining and relatable though. Both made fun and
disparaged upbraided Great Britain from a somewhat semi-hostile indigenous perspective, which I always delight in simply because. The Dane/Saxon viewpoint in The Last Kingdom is arguable because the Danes were the invader, but given the extent of British history following, the Danes mocking the soon-to-be Colonizers is much needed when every other book seems to elevate Britain to a nauseatingly grand status. I delighted in both the Danes and the Scottish humor and found it much needed respite in spite of all. The fact that they both picked apart the British interpretation of Christianity and didn’t refrain from disparaging admonishing it was also refreshing. I’ll go into more detail when I do a review of The Last Kingdom after I finish; I’m still working on that book.
I enjoyed Ransom, the second book in that Highlands’ Lairds series. I haven’t read Shadow Music yet. Other books I’ve read of Garwood’s along that same line and enjoyed since my last historical romance review are The Secret, The Wedding and Saving Grace. The Prize is British Medieval and, at first, I found it as slow and annoying as the dull-witted beefy male protagonist, but it improved vastly with the penultimate scene in the first act then it became far more appealing and so did he; I ended up really enjoying it. I did read two of her Crown’s Spies series books: Guardian Angel and The Gift—they were good; The Gift probably the better of the two but I liked both.
What I really like about Garwood’s books are the female protagonists and that is the most important part for me. This is, however, the first time I’ve really delved into the Highland historical romance novels. I did read Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander way back and it didn’t really do it enough for me to want to continue with the series. With the television show, I tried to watch it twice—both times, I got to the spanking part, started fuming then when she was almost raped and he blamed her, I was done. I dunno why it rubbed me the wrong way in that television show when I can read about spankings and other patriarchal assholish behavior in historical romance novels and it not bother me as badly as it did in that one. I’m waiting for someone to do a paper on spankings of adult women by adult men in patriarchal history; I’m curious is if it was really that common of an occurrence because if a man ever tried to spank me, I would gut him with a butter knife. I also want a book on the cruel and bizarre patriarchal historical habits towards women like spankings and beatings and such—like a glossary or index of women’s history and culture. It would be like a one-thousand-page-per-book ten-volume series, you say? Yes, I know—I’m being facetious but still would love to point to it when men start giving us lip. Stay safe, healthy, and warm, y’all. 😘