Friday, January 15, 2021

Review: The Secret by Julie Garwood

I do like historical romances set in Scotland. There's something so swoony about a man in a kilt, right? And the Scottish Highlands, with its fierce warriors and deep distrust (to soft pedal it a bit) of the English is enticing too. So Julie Garwood's 13th century set historical romance, The Secret, about an English woman and a Scots laird hits the kilted, intimidating and tender hero and sassy, kind and caring heroine spot for me.

Judith and Frances Catherine are just children when they meet at a summer festival in the borderlands of England and Scotland. They're too young to know they aren't supposed to like each other because Judith is English and Frances Catherine is Scottish so they became fast friends, meeting up at the festival annually. Frances Catherine's mother died just after childbirth and knowing that her friend was afraid of doing the same, Judith vowed to Frances Catherine that she would come to her and make sure that Frances Catherine lived through the experience herself. Now Frances Catherine, married to the younger brother of the Maitland laird, is pregnant and she wants her friend by her side as promised. Although he is not certain that bringing an English woman into their Highland clan's territory is the right thing to do, Laird Iain Maitland agrees to fetch his sister-in-law's friend, never dreaming that the Englishwoman and outsider will keep her word to sweet Frances Catherine and change his life, and the life of his clan for the better.

Judith is an honorable woman and she is determined to keep her word to her dear friend. Traveling to the Highlands also gets her closer to meeting the father about whom she has been told lies her entire life, a father who is a Scottish laird himself, Laird Maclean. The chemistry between Judith and Iain is good and their verbal sparring is entertaining. They are well matched equals. Although Iain can be high-handed and arrogant, he also admires Judith's strength and bravery and learns to listen to her when she sees ways to make the women of the clan happier. Judith is intelligent, diplomatic, and definitely before her time but her questions, suggestions, and changes to the lives around her are not so far out as to be completely unbelievable. Not much of Iain's past comes to light throughout the novel but Judith's own fractured and sometimes traumatic past, living half the year with her cruel mother and an alcoholic uncle and half the year with a kind aunt and uncle, tied as it is to the secret of the title, is laid out fully for the reader. The evolving relationship between Judith and Iain is wonderfully done and realistic. The end is resolved a little neatly and quickly but that's forgivable given the truly happily ever after which tidily sets up the next book in the series. Historical romance fans will definitely enjoy this.

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