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  • Published: Aug 28th, 2009

ausdenmore111I began reading romances more than 40 years ago but Julie Garwood’s wonderful medieval romance, Saving Grace is the first story I can remember reading that featured a heroine who was a victim of domestic abuse.  Wed to an English baron at a young age, Lady Johanna entered her marriage filled with all the hopes and dreams of any young bride, hopes and dreams that were shattered by the words and fists of her handsome, evil-hearted husband and his equally evil priest.  Isolated from her family and friends, Johanna eventually became resigned to her fate.  As she explains later in the book;

“I was much, much younger then.  The beating didn’t start right after we were wed.  He set about destroying my confidence first.  I was naïve, and frightened, too, and when you are called ignorant and unworthy over and over again by someone who is supposed to love and protect you, well, in time a part of you will begin to believe some of the nonsense.”

Even though a part of Johanna withered during her three year marriage to a monster and she was understandably frightened of men, she never completely lost her inner core of strength.  Knowing that to fight back verbally or physically would mean severe beatings and possibly death at her husband’s hands she chose, instead, what the book’s hero describes as “acts of quiet defiance”, such as secretly learning to read and write after being told by her husband that women were not capable of learning such skills.   And, even though she’s sure she’ll go to Hell, she refuses to believe Bishop Hallwick’s hierarchy that says women are “last in God’s love, even below dull-witted oxen.”  There’s that quiet defiance again.

Grace2_GarwoodI asked Julie Garwood about her inspiration for the character of Johanna and she graciously responded;

“I remember at the time I wrote that book there was a great deal in the news about domestic abuse. I had done some work for a local abuse center and saw how frightened abuse victims could be.  They were my inspiration for Johanna.  Since I wanted to set the story in medieval times, I did some research in medieval history.  I already knew that medieval women were often treated as second class citizens, but I vaguely remembered reading or hearing about a medieval church hierarchy where women were placed beneath even the lowest of animals.  I set out to find it.  With the help of a reference librarian at the university I found what I was looking for.  Unfortunately, it was written in Latin.  I knew enough Latin to tell that it was the hierarchy but not enough to translate the entire passage, so I found a Latin teacher who did it for me.  You’ll find a variation of what was translated at the beginning of Saving Grace.”

After the death of her first husband, Johanna is finally freed from her hellish marriage and, understandably, has no desire to wed again but King John orders her to marry another of his favored barons, a man just as despicable as her dead husband.  That inner core of strength again rises to the surface with Johanna using cunning and intelligence to delay the wedding until she can find a way out of the union.  The solution, proposed by her brother, is to marry her to Laird Gabriel MacBain and send her to Scotland where she will be out of the reach of King John and his devious friends.  You can imagine her fear when, after having been a human punching bag for three long years, she first sees the huge warrior to whom she is to be married.

“Her mind raced from one worry to another…Dear God, could she survive purgatory again?  The possibility that she could be marrying another monster made her weep with self-pity.  She was immediately ashamed of herself.  Was she really such a coward after all?  Had Raulf been right to ridicule her?”

“No, no, she was a strong woman.  She could handle anything that came her way.  She would not give in to the fear or allow herself to have such low thoughts about herself.  She had value, damn it…didn’t she?”

This is where her long journey back to a confident, strong, trusting and loving woman begins.  As is often the case with someone who has been abused, there are steps forward and steps back and I was glad Garwood didn’t try to rush the process but I liked that Johanna had the resolve to try to take control of her life, even while dealing with her fear, beginning with her and Gabriel’s wedding ceremony, and continuing to move forward, sometimes one small step at a time, even in the face of inevitable set-backs.

“The ceremony was going along quite nicely until Father MacKechnie asked her to promise to love, honor, and obey her husband.  She considered his request a long minute.  Then she shook her head and turned to the groom.  She motioned for him to lean down and stretched up on tiptoe so that she could whisper in his ear.  “I will try to love you, m’lord, and I’ll certainly honor you because you’ll be my husband, but I don’t believe I’ll obey you much.  I’ve found that total submissiveness doesn’t agree with me.”

“She was wringing the petals off the stems of her flowers while she was explaining her position.  She couldn’t look him in the eye either but stared at his chin while she waited for his reaction.”

I also liked that she hadn’t lost her kindness or her belief that there might be good men in the world – that they weren’t all monsters like her dead husband.  She had learned through hard experience to be cautious but she hadn’t completely closed her heart to the possibility of love.  She hadn’t lost her ability to laugh either and, as she becomes more secure and more confident, her quirky sense of humor becomes more evident in her interactions with Gabriel and the members of his clan.  She’s small, blonde and beautiful, with a bruised spirit, leading her new husband to initially believe that she’s fragile and weak though he never doubts her intelligence or determination.  But, as her heart and spirit gradually heal, her confidence grows and when she’s tested we see that she is strong and courageous, with the heart of a lion.  It’s a pure pleasure to see her come into her own by the end of the book.  She not only wins the heart of her hero but also the hearts of his clan, as well as the heart of this reader.  Gabriel says it best toward the end of the book.

“She was telling Alex the truth.  It was a fact that maidens could rescue mighty, arrogant warriors.  Johanna had certainly rescued him from a bleak, cold existence.  She’d given him a family and a home.  She was his love, his joy, his companion.  She was his saving grace.”

Saving Grace is my go-to comfort read.  I’ve read the book so many times since its 1994 release that I am now on my third paperback copy and this one is starting to look a little ragged around the edges.  I hope that you will enjoy Saving Grace as much as I do each time I read it and that you will like Johanna and be as proud of her as I am.

If you have read Saving Grace, what did you think of Johanna?  Who is your favorite Julie Garwood heroine?  What makes her special?

Tell us about your favorite historical heroines.  I’m always happy to add to my historical tbr mountain!

32 Responses to “SHE WAS THEIR SAVING GRACE by PJ Ausdenmore”

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  1. Buffie
    on Aug 28th, 2009
    @ 6:04 am

    Great blog PJ! I love Julie Garwood’s medievals as she is the author who got me reading romance novels. I picked one of her heroines as one of my favorites, too. You can read about my choice on Saturday 🙂

  2. Dee
    on Aug 28th, 2009
    @ 6:17 am

    My favorite historical heroines fit a pattern: strong-willed, loving, intelligent, and very sure of themselves.

    The first is Claire Fraser from the Outlander saga. Out of her time period, and let’s face it, her comfort zone, she strives to make the best out of a bad situation to get back to her husband and her life. She is forced to marry a man she barely knows, but one who quickly becomes the only man ever.

    The second is Lucy Waltham from Tessa Dare’s Goddess of the Hunt. She knows she’s loved one man for eight years ever since he crowned her as a goddess. Now, I’ve done the whole crushes on your brother’s friends thing. If I had a brother like Henry, I would be more successful too. Back to Lucy; she knows what she wants, but doesn’t become cartoonish or annoying by being so single-minded. She was delightful to read.

    The third is a group of Heroines from Kinley MacGregor novels. Now, I may not like all of her heroines, but the ones that do stick out in my mind fit the mold mentioned above. Emily, Kenna, Maggie, Nora, Kat, Callie and Rowena all have the qualities of a lady, plus refuse to be a man’s doormat or an afterthought to their guardians/ male relatives/ future husbands.

  3. Stacy ~
    on Aug 28th, 2009
    @ 6:22 am

    I remember going on a Garwood glom back in the 90’s, and there were several, including this one, that I just adored. PJ you make me want to go back and re-read, and I think these are all stored away somewhere, so I need to find them. As to my favorite, JG heroine, I couldn’t rightly say, because there were a few that had qualities I really admired. I wish I could remember more clearly these stories – I guess that’s why I’m a huge re-reader.

    Thanx for the memories 🙂

  4. PJ
    on Aug 28th, 2009
    @ 6:28 am

    Thanks, Buffie! I’m looking forward to reading about your JG heroine on Saturday. 🙂

  5. PJ
    on Aug 28th, 2009
    @ 6:38 am

    Dee, you’ve chosen some terrific heroines. I adore Lucy Waltham! I have the feeling I’ll be re-reading “Goddess of the Hunt” many times in the years to come.

    Kinley MacGregor is one of my favorite medieval authors. I enjoyed all of the heroines listed for the exact reason you stated… “all have the qualities of a lady, plus refuse to be a man’s doormat or an afterthought to their guardians/ male relatives/ future husbands”. Well said!

  6. PJ
    on Aug 28th, 2009
    @ 6:42 am

    Stacy, I hadn’t read “Saving Grace” since last year and it was wonderful to immerse myself in Garwood’s medieval Scotland again. It made me want to re-read the rest of her medievals so I’ll probably be joining you on that search through my storage boxes. lol

    Glad I could bring back some good memories for you!

  7. Dee
    on Aug 28th, 2009
    @ 6:45 am

    I picked up GOTH because of the review here. I was so impressed that it was her first book – I even emailed a few friends about it to pimp it out.

  8. PJ
    on Aug 28th, 2009
    @ 6:55 am

    Dee, I’m so glad that our review led you to a book you loved. Have you picked up her second book yet? “Surrender of a Siren” is in stores now and the third book in the trilogy, “A Lady of Persuasion” will be out the end of September.

  9. Andrea
    on Aug 28th, 2009
    @ 7:06 am

    Great post, PJ! A friend recommended this book to me years and years ago, so I bought it. I still haven’t read it, but the next time I’m in the mood for a medieval I’ll pull this one out!

  10. Dee
    on Aug 28th, 2009
    @ 7:11 am

    I will soon enough, PJ.

  11. Cyndi
    on Aug 28th, 2009
    @ 7:49 am

    Great blog.
    I used to love all of Julie Garwood’s books and my stand by for her is HONOR”S SPLENDOR. I can always reread that book, and , it too, is now dog earred and ragged.
    Thanks for the blog!

  12. Suzanne Welsh
    on Aug 28th, 2009
    @ 8:36 am

    Ah, PJ…you certainly know how to seduce a die hard JG fan! With my favorite of all her books!

    Like you, Saving Grace is my favorite go-to comfort read. And each time I read it, I find something new, something I hadn’t seen or comprehended the first go round. It’s that good of a read!

    One of the best scenes to me is when the two lieutenents are discussing her inability to remember which plaid to wear on which day, while she’s standing beside them, as if she can’t hear them or understand the simple plan. Of course, she knows the plan is stupid. But has chosen a different way to join Gabriel’s clan together!

  13. Suzanne Welsh
    on Aug 28th, 2009
    @ 8:38 am

    Oh, and PJ, I’ve worn out two HARDBACK copies!!

  14. PJ
    on Aug 28th, 2009
    @ 8:45 am

    Thanks for stopping by, Suz! I love that scene with Keith and Calum! Actually, I love all of Johanna’s scenes with them, especially when she’s trying to teach them a “lesson”. Lots of laughs in those scenes. 🙂

  15. PJ
    on Aug 28th, 2009
    @ 8:46 am

    Wow! Two hardbacks? I’m impressed. 😉

  16. PJ
    on Aug 28th, 2009
    @ 8:48 am

    Thanks for stopping by, Cyndi! “Honor’s Splendor” is another terrific book from Garwood. I’d be hard pressed to name any of her medievals that I didn’t love.

  17. Suzanne Welsh
    on Aug 28th, 2009
    @ 9:04 am

    PJ, I think one of the things I loved about this book, is how Johanna teaches not only Gabriel’s clan to love and accept each other, but him how to lead them and meld them into one clan. And yes, I loved her lessons at the dinner table… too, funny!!

    I personally would’ve loved JG to write her brother and Claire’s tory. Ah, well, maybe someday!

  18. PJ
    on Aug 28th, 2009
    @ 9:16 am

    Suz, that “someday” may just happen. When Julie emailed me about Johanna, she also said;

    “I’ve often thought of doing a follow-up story on some of the characters but never got around to it. Maybe I will someday.”

    Maybe, if enough people email her (through her website) requesting a story for Nicholas and Clare, we just might get our wish!

  19. Suzanne Welsh
    on Aug 28th, 2009
    @ 9:18 am

    OOOOOOOOOOOoooo…I’ll have to send my request!!
    Thanks, PJ!!

    I can imagine Clare is NOT an easily managed heroine, and NIcholas deserves one who can stand toe-to-toe with him!!

  20. Marisa
    on Aug 28th, 2009
    @ 9:26 am

    PJ – you’ve done me in! I have work to do and yet, I’ve run over to my keeper shelf to take this one down and read it yet again. Johanna is one of my favorite heroines in historical romance and Julie Garwood wrote her to perfection. I’m so excited by what Ms. Garwood has said about her inspiration for the book that I know I’ll be re-reading it with a new perspective.

  21. Pam P
    on Aug 28th, 2009
    @ 11:14 am

    Saving Grace is one of my top favorite romances, PJ, need to find it for a re-read, remembering a bit now reading about it here. Honor’s Splendor another favorite. Also I liked Christina in Lion’s Lady, a bit quirky due to her upbringing and trying to fit into a society so foreign to her, fierce and independent and with a sense of humor, yet vulnerable at the same time – yet she accepts and finds a way, still staying true to herself.

  22. cheryl c.
    on Aug 28th, 2009
    @ 12:43 pm

    PJ, I recently reread this book because it is one of my favorites. With all the new books I have in my TBR pile, I still find myself going to my keeper shelf sometimes. Garwood’s books are comfort reads for me.

    I really liked all of Garwood’s heroines. Four that stand out for me are Johanna from Saving Grace, Judith from The Secret, Gillian from Ransom, and Jade from Guardian Angel.

  23. Joy
    on Aug 28th, 2009
    @ 12:48 pm

    Saving Grace is one of my favorite JG books. I have all of them. I would have to say, though, that my favorite is Castles. Strong heroines is a hallmark of Garwood’s stories. I also enjoy the “lessons” like….”there’s more than one way into the keep”… of my favorite set of lines and scenes go with that lesson.

  24. Janga
    on Aug 28th, 2009
    @ 3:28 pm

    PJ, I bet you have inspired a lot of usto reread Saving Grace. 🙂

    I’ve been thinking about my favorite heroine since you first mentioned this topic. It’s hard to choose one, but if I have to limit myself, I’ll choose Catherine Melbourne from Mary Jo Putney’s Shattered Rainbows. I love her intelligence, her integrity, her compassion, and her strength clothed in gentleness.

    Sophy Stanton-Lacy and Jessica Trent are tied for very close seconds.

  25. PJ
    on Aug 28th, 2009
    @ 3:52 pm

    Hi Marisa! Hope you enjoy your re-read of “Saving Grace”!

  26. PJ
    on Aug 28th, 2009
    @ 3:53 pm

    Pam, I haven’t read “Lion’s Lady” in a long time. You’ve inspired me to dig it out for a long overdue re-read. Thanks for commenting!

  27. PJ
    on Aug 28th, 2009
    @ 3:55 pm

    “I really liked all of Garwood’s heroines. Four that stand out for me are Johanna from Saving Grace, Judith from The Secret, Gillian from Ransom, and Jade from Guardian Angel.”

    Cheryl, those are all terrific heroines! I really do love Garwood’s heroes but it’s her heroines that have stood the test of time for me.

    Thanks for stopping by!

  28. PJ
    on Aug 28th, 2009
    @ 4:00 pm

    “I also enjoy the “lessons” like….”there’s more than one way into the keep”… of my favorite set of lines and scenes go with that lesson.”

    Joy, the lessons are some of my favorite parts of “Saving Grace”. I laughed over the confusion that resulted from all those “more than one way into the keep” lessons but the final lessons learned at the end of the book had me laughing through my tears.

    You know, I haven’t read “Castles” in years. So many wonderful stories from such a talented writer.

  29. PJ
    on Aug 28th, 2009
    @ 4:05 pm

    “I’ll choose Catherine Melbourne from Mary Jo Putney’s Shattered Rainbows. I love her intelligence, her integrity, her compassion, and her strength clothed in gentleness.”

    Catherine is an excellent choice, Janga! “Shattered Rainbows” is very high on my list of all-time favorites.

    I think a lot of people would agree with your choice of Jessica Trent – like Kate, whose blog about Jessica is posted this afternoon.

  30. Maria Lokken
    on Aug 28th, 2009
    @ 4:52 pm

    I think Janga summed it up – you have inspired me to read Saving Grace. She sounds like a heroine I would relish reading. Thanks for the very thoughtful insight PJ.

  31. Irisheyes
    on Aug 28th, 2009
    @ 6:36 pm

    Awesome choice, PJ! Saving Grace is tied with The Secret for my favorite Garwood.

    The thing I absolutely love about Johanna, and Judith too for that matter, is that they have both clearly been victimized are frightened and weary but still forge ahead and find a way out of their darkness (with the help of Gabriel and Ian, of course).

    I love tragic heroines but there is a real danger of making them whiney and with no backbone. I applaud the authors who can show their inner strength and courage while still showing their very real fears.

  32. Gannon
    on Aug 28th, 2009
    @ 6:50 pm

    PJ, I haven’t read Saving Grace in many years. Your blog makes me want to pick it up ASAP! I have many Garwood books on my keeper shelf.

    Great blog!

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