Elizabeth Montwright and her little brother, Thomas, were the sole survivors of a vicious attack against her father's castle which left her entire family dead. Believing that her greedy uncle is responsible for the murders and will likely try to gain guardianship of Thomas and kill him too, she has been hiding out in the forest. When word arrives through a faithful servant that their overlord, Geoffrey Berkeley has routed the murderers from her home and taken control, Elizabeth decides to come out of hiding to persuade Geoffrey of her uncle's complicity. Unfortunately, the knight was severely injured during the battle and is quite ill. Pretending to be a commoner, Elizabeth uses her healing skills to nurse him back to health, but before Geoffrey is fully recovered, she is told that her uncle is on his way and must once again go into hiding.
In the midst of his fevered dreams, Geoffrey awoke to find the most beguiling creature he's ever seen hovering over his bed. Once he is fully recovered, he suspects that the young lady may be the daughter of the faithful vassal who was killed. After persuading Elizabeth's servant to reveal the truth of her whereabouts, Geoffrey seeks her out and immediately demands that they marry, because he simply must have the lovely lady for his own. When they are wed, Geoffrey discovers that his new bride is an independent-minded young miss who he believes must be taught the duties of a proper wife. Elizabeth becomes exasperated with Geoffrey who in her mind also must be taught how to be a proper husband. The pair "battle" their way to discovering their love for one another while working to defeat those who would do them harm.
Gentle Warrior was Julie Garwood's first published romance from way back in 1985, and although I mostly enjoyed it, I would have to say that it showed some of her greenness as a writer. There are many of the trademark Garwood elements here such as a temperamental alpha hero who has a gentler side; a feisty, independent heroine; lots of spirited, humorous banter between the pair; and love scenes that were pretty steamy for the time period in which they were penned. However, the book is written in a style in which the points-of-view (POV) sometimes slip back and forth between various characters every few paragraphs within the same scene rather than there being longer passages in one person's POV and then having a scene break before switching to another character. I'm not sure if this is just an older style of writing that was more common in the 1980's or one of the signs of the author's inexperience, but for me, it was a little confusing and made it more difficult to get inside each character's head. In my opinion, it also gave the narrative a more passive tone that had a telling rather than showing feel to it. Additionally, there wasn't quite enough details in any area of the book to fully satisfy me.
As I mentioned, Geoffrey and Elizabeth are the typical Julie Garwood character stereotypes. Geoffrey is an intense, stubborn alpha warrior with a hot temper, but in the bedroom is usually quite gentle. Elizabeth is a brave and fiercely independent young woman who was taught more masculine pursuits such as hunting and riding by a father who longed for a son and didn't get one until later in life. Even though she isn't very good at more feminine things such as sewing and household maintenance, Elizabeth still had a tender side which made her more relatable to me. She witnessed her entire family, with the exception of her little brother, be massacred by greedy men who wanted her father's land, and is now hell-bent on seeking vengeance against them. Needless to say, Geoffrey and Elizabeth have a clash of both personalities and wills as they try to create a lasting, affectionate marriage. The moments where they are butting heads while trying to "teach" each other how to be a proper spouse, when each of them has a completely different idea of what that means, were quite funny. In fact, I would have to say that the largest part of this book was about them learning to compromise and come to terms with the other's inherent personality traits. Geoffrey could be rather arrogant at times which occasionally grated, but sometimes could lead to something endearing. I loved the scene in which he tells Elizabeth, "You are mine," and she says it right back to him. I didn't feel that the hero and heroine had as much depth as they could have, but overall, they were both pretty likable.
The one thing about the book that wasn't quite my cup of tea is that it is written more in the bodice-ripper style of the 1970's and 80's. While Geoffrey isn't exactly abusive like some heroes of that era in romance, he can get very intense and a couple of times he shook Elizabeth or pulled her hair in a way that was more than just a playful tug when he was angry. I'll allow though that on one of those occasions she had just confessed to doing something disobedient (although she had thought better of the idea and didn't fully go through with it), and then had followed that up with an act that scared the living daylights out of him even though it had a good outcome. The story simply had a healthy dose of a woman's subservient position to her husband which would seriously raise feminist hackles, but at the same time, it wasn't nearly as bad as some other bodice-ripper romances or the reality for women in the Middle Ages. So, overall, I guess I would say that it had a pretty good balance even if that part bugged me just a little bit.
Gentle Warrior had a few significant secondary characters that helped liven things up, mainly Geoffrey's gruff vassal and second in command, Roger, and Elizabeth's precocious little brother, Thomas, and grandfather, Elslow. I really enjoyed the easy relationship that Elizabeth had with Elslow and how he is the voice of reason for both her and her husband when they are being too stubborn. The romance in the book was good, but not quite as strong as I've read in other novels. I think I simply have a preference for the relationship to solidify between the hero and heroine before they marry, or if for some reason a quick marriage is necessary, that they perhaps wait to consummate it. This way there is a slower build of sexual tension. In this story, everything happens right up front, leaving only their journey to figuring out that they have fallen in love somewhere along the way. All in all, Gentle Warrior was a pretty simple, uncomplicated romance (even the bad guys were dispatched with little fanfare which was somewhat disappointing), but in spite of its weaknesses managed to elicit enjoyment from me. I think it just simply falls into the category of a sweet, feel-good story that makes a nice comfort read.
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