I discovered romance novels when I was 13 years old when my aunt gave me a large paper bag full of books. In this bag I found one book with pages yellowed from time and its front cover worn clean off. I decided this obvioulsy well loved book was the book I would read first. Its title was Honor's Splendour.
From the opening line, Julie Garwood had me hooked. "They meant to kill him." "They" being Baron Louddon's henchmen and "him" being our hero, Baron Duncan of Wexton. As we enter the story, we find Duncan being stripped of his clothing, his hands tied to a post, standing barefoot on the frozen ground, and looking bored with the whole situation. Of course, Duncan's nonchalance about what is being done to him and his indifference to his fate is seriously disconcerting his captors. In order to escape Duncan's presence and the freezing temperature, Louddon's men decide to go inside where it's warm. After all, it could take hours for "the Wolf" to freeze to death, and since he had come alone, there was no chance of him escaping. As they say, assumption is the mother of all mess-ups.
Once the henchmen are inside, Louddon's sister, the Lady Madelyne, dressed in a long cloak to conceal her features and smelling like roses, comes to Duncan's rescue. After telling him not to make a sound, she begins cutting the rope binding his wrists. Duncan can't believe what he's seeing! Surely the enemy's own sister would not be his savior!?! But she soon has him freed and situated in the castle's chapel where she can work on warming him up with blankets. Deciding on the quickest method to thaw his feet, Madelyne uses her own body heat, shocking Duncan yet again with her completely unselfish act. And thus the mighty Baron of Wexton falls in love, instantly and irrevocably, though of course he doesn't realize it yet.
Madelyne is my favorite heroine. Like many Garwood heroines, she's kind of klutzy, always bumping the top of her head on things (including Duncan's chin) or causing people to have to duck as she swings her hand out in elaborate gestures to demonstrate some point she is trying to make. She is terrified of Duncan's horse in the beginning so she talks to him, names him Silenus, and tells Silenus how terrified she is of him and asks him to please hold still so she could mount him as Duncan had ordered her to do. Eventually, she tames him by bringing him treats every day and talks to him, until he is as tame as a little pussycat when he is around her.
Are you beginning to understand why I was so spellbound by this story? Is anyone not impatient to read this wonderful story? All right, let me give you a few more highlights.
After Duncan is freed, he kidnaps Madelyne and orders his men to destroy Louddon's fortress and burn it to the ground. When Madelyne asks why, he tells her for revenge. As we read on, Louddon attacks as Duncan is returning home. As the battle goes on, it migrates toward Madelyne, Trying to find Duncan and (hopefully) safety, Madelyne enters the fray, is attacked by one of Louddon's soldiers and sustains a gash to her thigh, but tiny, petite Madelyne saves Gilard, Duncan's brother, by killing one of Louddon's soldiers with a mace.
By the next day, Madelyne is burning with fever from her wound and becomes delirious. She thinks she sees the mythological creatures from the stories her uncle had told her. First, she sees Duncan's brother Edmond, tending her wound, except that she imagines him to be Polyphemus, leader of the Cyclops. After punching him hard enough to leave a black eye, she sees Duncan and imagines him her childhood hero and imaginary protector, Odysseus.
After Madelyne is well again, she gets into one near accident after another as Duncan follows her around trying to protect her, all the while falling in love with her ditzy but sweet self.
I love the way the characters interact, Duncan doing his best to protect Madelyne as she explores her new freedom, and Madelyne trying to teach Duncan and his family how to be a real family. Madelyne is sweet and innocent - all she wants is to be loved and to feel safe. Duncan yearns for his simple life before Madelyne, but begins to realize he can't live without her.
It's all of this, the exciting story, the wonderful charcters, and so much more that makes me love this book. I have read it so many times, I know the story by heart. Sometimes I'll remember something funny and want to reread it, so I'll revisit some of my favorite parts, and sometimes I want to just read the whole thing over again. This book was my best friend when I was homesick while serving on active duty in the Army, and it's been with me on many lonely nights while waiting for my fiancÚ to come home from work. Julie Garwood created an incredible treasure when she created this story, complete with chivalry, romance, the strong protecting the innocent, and everything else you could ask for in a Medieval romance. I sincerely hope that if you haven't read this book yet, that you do so ASAP. I promise you won't regret it.
-- Sara Cole
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