Dear Ms. Garwood:
Back in 2006, Jayne and I wrote a few reviews of our all time favorite books. We primarily read and review “new to us” books whether those are new publications or recently republished backlist titles. Because of that, our archives are thin as it pertains to the books which might considered modern romance classics. The holidays are a perfect time to remedy that.
“The Bride” is one of my most often read books. I purchased it new in 1989 and proceeded to read it so many times that the spine fell apart. When Penguin (who apparently must have bought Garwood’s digital backlist titles after they reverted from her original publisher, Pocket) began rolling out the release of new titles, I snapped up my copy. At $5.99, I felt like I was getting a real bargain.
Jamie is the youngest daughter of Baron Jamison who owes the crown money. To pay his debt he offers two of his daughters to marry two Scottish Lairds to help cement a peace between Scotland and England.
In many ways, this is a twist on the Cinderella story. Jamie’s mother came to Baron Jamison with Jamie quickening in the belly. Jamison treats Jamie as his own. But Jamie pays for her place in the family by working. When her mother died, Jamie slowly but steadily took over the mistress duties and her father let her. Jamie’s hands are calloused and her step-sisters are not. She runs the keep, manages the finances, and ensures that the family has a home over their head. What saves Jamie from coming off as a pained martyr is she is portrayed as not only embracing her role as doyenne of the keep, but welcoming it. She doesn’t see herself as being used or abused by her family. When she is taken to Scotland and instructed to rest, she believes that her new husband isn’t valuing her.
The fairy godmother might be the stablemaster, Beak, a Scot himself who views the Scottish Lairds appearance at Baron Jamison’s keep as a way to give Jamie a new and better life. He confronts the two Scottish Lairds, Alec Kincaid and Daniel Ferguson, and tells them that the Baron Jamison treats his daughters like his horses:
Baron Jamison treats his daughters just like his horses and that’s a fact. Only have a look around you and you’ll get my meaning soon enough. The pretty little ladies in these three stalls are for the baron’s daughters, right there for anyone to see. But if you’ll walk down this long corridor and turn the bend, you’ll see another stall hidden away in the far corner by the side door. It’s separated from the others. That’s where the baron keeps his beauty, a magnificent white pretty just waiting for a proper mating.
Jamie is beautiful, a wonder at healing, capable of managing a huge keep, able to tame the wildest of horses. Yet, for all her perfection, she is somehow relatable. She doesn’t view herself as beautiful and every other skill she has she deems without much value. She acts as if she is ordinary even if those around her view her otherwise.
Alec Kincaid is a fierce warrior who is only taking an English Bride to appease his King. His first wife killed herself and The Kincaid, as they call him, views a wife with as much interest as he has for his horse. Despite Jamie’s beauty, her strong defense of her family, and her winsome manner, Alec still is intent on placing Jamie firmly in the wife category, much to Jamie’s dismay.
Jamie doesn’t allow Alec to walk over her. Her strong personality and the rightness she feels in her own beliefs impel her to challenge him: “Alec, if I’m not any good at kissing, it’s your fault, not mine. Maybe you aren’t any good, either. What think you of that possibility?”
Neither Jamie nor Alec change much in the story. Their character arcs are subtle. Jamie begins to see her self worth shouldn’t be tied up in how much work she does for others. Alec’s insistence on holding himself emotionally apart softens when he falls in love with Jamie. In a true melding of the best of both worlds, Jamie’s deliberate refusal to understand the intricacies of clan feuds highlights the ridiculous nature of some of them but she also comes to understand the fierce loyalty the clan system invoked. Robin once said that the key to a captivity narrative is that the captive changes the captor and his people in some measurable fashion. “The Bride” exemplifies this. Jamie is taken from her home, a forced Bride, and changes Alec and his people by adopting the best of their culture and melding in her own sensibilities to create a more harmonious life for everyone.
“The Bride” features classic Garwood tropes. The inept but beautiful heroine (usually English). The stoic, long suffering Scottish Laird who must marry to protect his people but has no intention of caring for the lass. The reluctant clan that is won over by the heroine’s dogged attempts to fit in. Humorous gags that repeat themselves throughout the book. In “The Bride,” it is Jamie’s poor sense of direction and her name.
“I’ve been in England too long,” he admitted, “else I’d find your arguments overbearing, wife.”
“Will you quit calling me ‘wife’? I have a name. Can you not call me Jamie?”
“It’s a man’s name.”
She wanted to throttle him. “It’s my name.”
“We’ll find another.”
“We will not.”
“It isn’t decent to touch like this in front of others, Alec.”
She ignored the amusement in his voice. “No, it isn’t,” she repeated. “And my name is Jamie. You’ve still to say it, Alec.”
“It’s a man’s name.”
“Are we back to that?”
“Aye, we are.”
“Did you say your name was Jane?”
“No, it’s Jamie,” she instructed.
She nodded when Gavin continued to look confused.
The soldier turned to Alec and blurted out, “But that’s a man’s name.”
Throughout the text, “that’s a man’s name” is a repeated refrain, always interjected at just the right moment to provide comedic relief. The use of repetitive phrases and motifs are not limited to humor. In the first sex scene between Jamie and Alec, the phrase “Not yet” is traded back and forth between the two, first used by Alec to signal that he isn’t ready to put an end to their activities and her introduction to intimacy and then by Jamie to inform Alec that she isn’t ready to stop.
Another writerly technique that is employed very effectively is the cliffhanger chapter endings matched by startling chapter beginnings. Chapter One starts with “They said he killed his first wife” and ends with “Still? it would make the kill so much sweeter. Chapter Three ends with:
“It will be a frigid day in heaven before I marry you, milord, a frigid day indeed.”
“You’ve just described the Highlands in winter, lass. And you will marry me.”
Exactly one hour later, Lady Jamison was wed to Alec Kincaid.
and Chapter Five begins with “She wore black to her wedding.” There are no wasted scenes in this book. Every word that is stated by the characters is important in either building the characters or advancing the plot. The use of repetition is done with obvious intent and not because of a writerly tic.
Probably nothing in this book is historically accurate, but I care not. As Jayne famously recited in her review of “The Raven Prince” by Elizabeth Hoyt: “I so believed in the romance and the world you’d created between these two that if you’d told me they got into a Range Rover and drove off into the sunset on the M25 I would have nodded and said “of course, that’s the perfect vehicle for Jock to fit into”. That is how I feel about “The Bride” and a whole series of historicals written by you. A