For years and years, this had been one of my most often re-read books. I don’t read it so often now, as I have over time increased the number of books on my re-read shelf, but probably annually I pick it and the sequel back up. Yes, I have annual Julie Garwood gloms. They bring me joy and comfort. And it seems amazing that anyone shouldn’t have read it yet. But, it turns out that there are people who have not been turned on to the wonders of Garwood, and recently I stumbled upon a group that is about to do a read/re-read and discussion of this book. So I of course had to join in.
While this book is available on OpenLibrary, I am reading my personal copy so I can not verify the quality of the scan. This book was originally published in 1989, though I didn’t get my hands on it until probably the mid 90’s. Wow, that is around 20 years ago. And what I remember about it was how spunky the heroine is, that she successfully stood up to her husband, and I remember that she was capable and skilled. It was also laugh out loud funny for me. I remember laughing like a loon in the back of the library and being so grateful for that very innocuous white and gold cover. All those things were ground breaking for me. Sure, now you’ll find spunky, smart, capable heroines in funny romance stories littering the ground, but back then they were few and far between in my world. That may have been partially local area library selection, but I think mostly it was just the times, there seemed to be a real emphasis on damsels in distress romantic fiction. This was so not the same as everything else on the shelves, and I was absolutely enthralled. And just this week I FINALLY found the term to describe my joy. It is COMPETENCE PORN! “John Rogers, one of the producers of the TV show Leverage, coined the term to express how sexy it is to watch highly trained, super competent people doing what they do best. This is it, and I love it so hard.” So I now have a new description, a new tag (should I go back and retag my old reviews?), and a better way to describe and express what it is I like about most of the books that I read, even if they set other people off. This book may not ne the epitome of competence porn, but it was almost certainly my first taste of it.
We start with Jamie, who while she is the youngest child, manages everything in her household, except the setting of the guards and the collecting of the tax. Despite her duties, she is full of life and mischief. As so many times happens in life, when you live and work with people you can’t really trust, the one thing you don’t do, is the one thing that comes back and bites you on the rear. in this case, her stepfather has failed to send the tax to the king, which sets of a chain reaction that results in two of the young daughters having to be married to Scotsman. Jamie’s father thinks he’ll hide Jamie so he can keep her running his household in comfort, but a well meaning and lovingly interfering stablemaster makes sure Jamie gets her chance to leave, no matter how much she thinks she doesn’t want to or how much he’ll miss her himself. For a woman who has confused need and dependence for love, this is the escape she needs,
Jamie is highly competent, particularly for the time period. She can read and write, she’s bilingual, she’s a healer, and she’s an accomplished hunter and rider. And she’s kind of snarky and belligerent (in an old school way). And if she’s going to be shipped off to the Highlands, she’s going to make it her own.
“She started three wars her first week. Jamie’s intentions were quite honorable. She’d decided to make the best of her situation, accepting that she was married to a laird now. She would do her duty as his wife and take care of him and his household. No matter how difficult the adjustment might be for Alec, she wouldn’t shirk her duties.”
“The wars, coming one atop the other, actually crept up on Jamie. She wasn’t about to take the blame for instigating any of the conflicts. No, the blame belonged to the Scots, their ridiculous customs, their stubborn nature, and most especially their unbending pride. Was it her fault none of these barbarians ever made a bit of sense?”
So yes, she stumbled and blundered a bit, but with the best of intentions. And with a self-awareness that said she would do the right thing, despite any negative consequences she might experience. She just wedged herself in and did the work.
“One bite at a time she reminded herself. That was how she’d boasted to Father Murdock she could eat a giant bear, and that was how she was going to conquer Alec Kincaid.”
For his part, Alec went from being the grim and somewhat aloof laird, to a compassionate man who realized what Jamie was trying to accomplish, and developing not just grudging respect for her accomplishments, but love and joy in them. He was a good hero.
And for the time period this was published, there was some delightful and humorous banter. Jamie gives as good as she gets, and Alec starts treating her as an equal way before even he realizes it. I really enjoy these characters, and I feel like even now, these are characters and a story that hold up well to time.
As for the plot itself, there is a nice twisty mystery that even on re-reading, when I know what is going to happen, I don’t see anything that would really spoil the surprise, there are character conflicts, and character growth, a sweet love story, and an adorable plot moppet. It is a touch old school, but it holds up well, particularly due to the respect accorded to women. 4.5 stars.