This is another Garwood historical with a strong capable heroine, which is something I always enjoy reading. But what struck me most about this book is that while it is a romance, friendships, particularly between women, is a large part of the plot. I can’t for sure say this was the first romance I read with strong relationships outside the romantic leads, but if not, it was probably close and it is the one that has stuck with me all these years.
Once upon a time, in a land that vaguely resembles historical Scotland, an English girl and a Scottish girl became friends before they ever knew there was reason for enmity. Judith was a solemn little girl with a miserable mother and a drunkard of an uncle for a guardian, but she had a loving aunt and uncle and that is how she ended up at a border festival to meet Frances Catherine. Frances Catherine had two names, because she was named after her mother and her grandmother who each died from child-birth and were not buried on holy ground because they were considered ritually unclean, and so her father wanted her names to remind god of those women. It also, quite naturally gave her a fear of child-birth. So Judith made Frances Catherine a promise to find out everything she could about child-birth, and to attend her when her time came. And that is where the conflict of the story comes into play. Frances Catherine wound up in the highlands and her husband’s promise is one that his brother, the laird, felt bound to honor it. He, like all the men in this piece doesn’t get that women can be trusted friends.
Needless to say, Judith comes as quite a shock to the system. Shocker of all shockers, Judith is a proto-feminist. She’s also something of a Mary Sue, good at everything and capable of making friends with everyone. But she was so unpretentious without being down on herself that I didn’t even care. And while the romance with Ian was very sweet, the star of this particular book was her relationships with all the women in the clan. Judith changes everything, but relatively gently, not coming into a different culture and telling the women what they are doing wrong. She just started making friends, presenting opportunities, and standing up to the men. If ever there had been a feminist uprising in historical Scotland, this is a way I could imagine it happening. There is even a very woman-power, female solidarity scene at the end that still gives me the warm fuzzies after all these years.
In the end Judith finds family, love, friendships, and makes a place for herself, all with her own irresistible charm and pragmatic take on life. I revisit her story again and again.