Pros: believable characters, well-researched time period
Cons: it isn't on your kids' summer reading list
If Nora Roberts is the queen of contemporary romance fiction, then Julie Garwood is arguably the queen of period romance. One excellent example of her command of the genre is her New York Times bestseller Saving Grace.
::: True Love in Feudal England :::
Lady Johanna was married to the brutal Baron Raulf at the age of 13. After his death, her foster brother arranges for her to be married to a Scottish laird, Gabriel MacBain, now running her late husband's land holding in Scotland, which Johanna had inherited upon his death. Johanna at 16 is barren, and has suffered physical abuse at the hands of Baron Raulf. Marrying the laird is frightening enough, but Johanna finds herself an outcast, accepted by neither of her new husband's clans: the MacBains a group who banded together to follow him, nor the Maclaurins, who chose to ask him for help even though their former laird never acknowledged his illegitimate son.
As Johanna slowly learns to love and trust her husband, her determination helps to band the two clans together into one, save the life of a woman badly beaten by another laird, marry her foster brother off, and forge a new life for herself in Scotland with her husband, but only after defeating some unscrupulous English barons and a cruel English bishop.
::: Why Garwood Succeeds Where Others Fail :::
Julie Garwood is like Nora Roberts in the respect that she does a great deal of research about the clothing and culture of the time she is writing about. Everything from the design of Gabriel's keep to the weapons used to the women's clothing is described in detail and really makes you feel like you are back in that time period.
Even more importantly, however, Garwood does an excellent job at character development. Sure, Saving Grace follows a typical romance formula where a meek and formerly abused woman falls into an arranged marriage and both overcome the original situation as well as several obstacles placed in their paths to fall in love and live happily ever after, but Garwood creates a gradual falling-in-love that is believable, because the characters and their reactions are believable. Each decision that a major character makes fits in with their personality, and they all make small changes that make the happy ending make sense.
Saving Grace is a great summer read: not too complicated, but meaty enough that you don't feel as if you've wasted time by reading it. And I can virtually guarantee you'll find yourself researching the 1200s in Great Britain by the time you finish the book.