Book Review

The Lion’s Lady by Julie Garwood: A Guest Review by RedHeadedGirl

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Title: Lion's Lady
Author: Julie Garwood
Publication Info: Pocket 1991
ISBN: 9780671737832
Genre: Historical: European

Lion's Lady by Julie GarwoodOkay, so, this is a classic, right?  I hadn’t read it before.

I KNOW.

I snagged it from a free book pile AGES ago, thinking it was another book I had read back in my misspent youth, but figured out pretty quite that this was NOT The Black Lion by Jude Devereaux, given that we started out in the Black Hills, not in Medieval England.

You can’t put anything past me.

Okay, so this book.  THIS BOOK. 

This is everything I adore about the historical genre.  It’s SO ridonkulous.  Irritatingly perfect heroine?  Damaged, brooding hero?  A whole mess of plot involving a will, possibly crazy people, an evil king (or whatever) and, just for fun, Native Americans?

FUCK YES.

So we open in the Black Hills of South Dakota in 1795 with a Sioux shaman having a dream about a lioness in the middle of buffalo- just as his…granddaughter? Comes home from being captured by an enemy tribe with a very blonde, very loud toddler in tow.  Merry, the woman (go with it), explains that the girl’s name is Christina, and she had promised Christina’s mother that she (Merry) would raise Christina until Christina is able to go back to England.  Merry’s husband already hates the whites, but grudgingly agrees to raise the kid when Merry says that “her daughter bellows like a lioness.”

We then cut to 9 years later where Lyon, our hero, is watching his wife die in childbirth.  While she is doing this, she accidently spills the beans that she had been cheating on Lyon with his brother James, the kid is actually James’, and Lyon closes off his heart forever when she dies.

Then we jump to 1803 or thereabouts- Lyon is a semi-retired spy/assassin who is all haunted by his past- he has nightmare where the people he killed come back to haunt him accusingly (even though we are assured that he only killed the really bad people, according to the War Office.  I think it’s the War Office, or I might be getting things confused with the Pink Carnation.  MOVING ON) and he sees Christina making a huge stir among the ton (mystery princess!  Moths, flames, something shiny and new! You get the idea) and is instantly like “WANT” and immediately moves towards the “Take.  Have!” part of the equation.  She, on the other hand, while convinced that he is her destiny (he’s a lion, she’s a lioness, lets call the whole thing off), is not so inclined to tolerate the taking and the having without discussing it first.

So a whole bunch of shit happens which I’m not going to recap in the entirety, but the basic plot is that Christina is the daughter of a now-deposed king of one of those tiny little European countries no one can keep track of (and, presumably Eastern European?  Who knows).  Her mother married him and then found out he was an Evil Bad Dictator and stole the treasury (converted to gemstones for easy travel) and ran off and discovered that she was pregnant.  Christina’s mother ran off to the Black Hills to escape from her husband, she ran into the Dakota and died and left Christina in their care.

I’ve been sitting on this review for WEEKS now because the summary is just so daunting.  There’s so much that happens, but it doesn’t feel overstuffed.  So the nickel version: Christina needs a husband so she can get control over her inheritance before she turns 19, otherwise it goes to her father’s control.  Lyon will do nicely for her purposes, and he’s all about that.  Her father is an evil despot and her aunt also wants control of the money, but knows she can’t do that with Lyon as the husband in question.  To add to that, Christina is mostly able to pass as a lady who did not grow up in a Dakota village, unless you look carefully and notice her penchant for going barefoot, throwing knives, and eating shrubs.  Hilarity ensues!

So… things I really liked about this book.  The story structure is basically flawless.  Before each chapter is an excerpt from Christina’s mother’s journal about “How we all got into this mess in the first place” and I liked the kind of in media res feel of it.  You don’t really find out WHY Jessica ran away from Christina’s father until near the middle of the book, and it helped pulled the story along.

I like Lyon, even though he’s kind of a dick.  He, at least, has some awareness of his dickishness, so there’s that.  He also has reasons for his dickishness, he’s not a dick without a cause (HEYOO), and he’s trying to be better, so there’s that, as well.  Also, when he pulls out his dickishness at Christina and yells at her, she hollers back at him, much to the stock and awe of everyone around them.

Christina…. I really didn’t like the way she was written.  And it’s taken me a while to sort through and figure out what it was I didn’t like.  I think that she comes off kind of Mary Sue-ish, as being able to pass herself off as being a great lady with only a year of study at it in Boston, along with being the best at being a Dakota, but that’s not my biggest problem.  My biggest problem is that whenever she’s not playing her role as a lady of society, she’s either bellowing (at Lyon usually) or whispering in fear.  She never just talks.

This seems nitpicky, and maybe I’m not explaining it well, but in private, she comes of as terrified and weak and needing Lyon to protect her, when that’s just not true.  She can take care of herself, and needing support is not the same as needing a caretaker and I’m not pleased with how she came off.  She is a strong character who is an HBIC and capable of getting shit done, why make her only super weak or super strong in private?  She’s not tea, for fuck’s sake.

(Also I got really annoyed at the number of times “God help me/him/her” was used.  I feel like a drinking game is inevitable.)

Really, what I loved about this is the total and utter ridonkulousness of it all.  I mean, there weren’t white settlers heading out to the Black Hills in the 1790s.  There just weren’t.  And it’s just not feasible that a white girl raised in a Dakota tribe would be able to successfully pull off being a great lady with one year of study.  But the banter is pretty good, and I never got the point of wanting to knock Christina and Lyon’s heads together- sure neither of them were telling the other one to complete truth about each other, but they each had their reasons.

I found this to be a fine example of the old school genre without bullshit sexual politics.  Loads of fun, even for my complaints.


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Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    Sandy says:

    One of my favorite books!!  I love Garwood’s historicals, and I felt so betrayed with her recent Shadow Music because it started out SO well, then just…quit. I wish she’d return to writing them like this book or Ransom or The Bride.
    Sigh.

  2. 2
    Joanne says:

    It’s the ‘whole’ of it, the comedy and the tragedy, that worked so well for readers at a time when romance books where one big clusterfuck of angst and emo heroes and heroines. I’m glad it stood the test of time and worked for you.

    I rather like her recent writings.

    The time for the type of story like Garwood’s The Lyon’s Lady has probably passed forever – but when it came out it was a great deal of fun.

    Oh! And that Christina cut her hair every time they had a difficulty in their relationship. I felt that she would be bald by the time the book ended.

    I’ll have to do a re-read some cold winter night. Thanks for the review Sarah.

  3. 3
    MIreya says:

    Me thinks I’ll be looking for a copy of this one.

  4. 4
    SB Sarah says:

    I love this book. I think you’re right, Joanne, that this was such a departure from so many other angst-filled, love-is-a-battlefield romances at the time. And Christina was happy! Confident! Determined, with a plan of action and a pretty sharp understanding of the people around her. And she could kill you if she wanted to.

    One of my favorite scenes is the one wherein Christina is talking about a relative who she thinks is so very stupid because that relative’s complaining behavior reveals her own weaknesses, which Christina could take advantage of. Christina thinks strategically, and while she lets things happen to her, she also makes things happen for herself. I loved that about her. Still do when I reread this book!

  5. 5

    Oh god, the scene where the “mischief makers” her aunt has hired to take her to Gretna Green and Lyon is like “NEVER FEAR LITTLE LADY I WILL TAKE CARE OF THIS” and she’s like “Whatever, dude.  I GOT THIS.”

    I did really like how they treated each other as equals, once Lyon picked his jaw off the ground that there’s someone who isn’t scared of him.

  6. 6
    Lil' Deviant says:

    I love Julie Garwood.  But this is just not ringing any bells.  How did I miss this one?  Can’t wait to read it.  Thanks for the review.

  7. 7
    Lisa J says:

    Garwood historicals ROCK!!  All her heroines are perfect, but for some reason it works for me.  Prince Charming is my absolute favorite.

  8. 8
    Heidi K says:

    Is this the one where she keeps sleeping on the floor?

  9. 9

    You have a point about the departure from the epic angst and emo of yesteryear. Garwood’s heroines are irritatingly perfect and her heroes are all alpha in that tall, broody and protective way, but there’s no rape (of the heroine by the hero). There’s no I-abuse-you-because-I-love-you, there’s no oppression. He might try to suppress her, but she won’t stand for it, and they learn to get along in blissful domesticity. These are feel-good reads.

    In fact, I get a foolish grin on my face whenever I start reminiscing about plots of old skool Garwoods.

  10. 10
    Stephanie Newton says:

    This!  I love Julie Garwood’s old books.  They are my favorite comfort read.  While the plots are crazy and the writing breaks every rule, she manages to write a brilliant story. 

    I think The Gift is my favorite, but I’m going to have to go to my Garwood shelf and reread a few, just to be sure.

  11. 11

    @Heidi K Yes. The mattresses are too soft for her. He thinks she’s fallen out of bed at first. :)

    My favorite Garwood historical is THE PRIZE. And SAVING GRACE. (I now feel the need to reread some of the awesome…)

  12. 12
    JennyD says:

    Love, love, LOVE this book. So much. I re-read it every couple months. As the reviewer said, it’s totally ridiculous, but I absolutely adore it. =D

  13. 13
    Hannah says:

    I started reading a library copy of The Lion’s Lady last year. I picked it up when it was super-cheap in the Kindle store and still haven’t finished it. While I wasn’t compelled to finish it at the time, it still had this old-school cracktastic quality that I just can’t explain.

  14. 14
    NerdyLutheranChick says:

    My favorite Garwood Historicals are the For the Roses “Series: (It starts with For the Roses, then there is The Clayborne Brides: One Pink Rose / One White Rose / One Red Rose (3 books in 1!) and it ends with Come the Spring) and The Secret (which was the third Romance Novel I ever read!)

  15. 15
    Michelle says:

    Garwood historicals are my standby reads when nothing else appeals. They never let me down. I love the old skool feel of them and she manages to not make the alpha heroes total a-holes. This one totally slipped by me and I recently scored it at Half Price Books and then proceeded to devour it in a day or so. Loved it, even with all the aforementioned ridikulousness.

  16. 16
    MarieC says:

    Great review! In this book, I love the scene in the ballroom, where Lyon is ‘protecting’ Christina from the ‘mischief makers’. He’s totally unaware that it was she who threw the knife. As he looks behind him to see who was there, she copies him, as if to search for the thrower as well.

    While I love this book, my favorite is still “Honor’s Splendor”.

  17. 17
    Amber says:

    I’m convinced that I enjoyed reading this review more than I would enjoy reading the book…. so, there’s that. :)

  18. 18
    dick says:

    “Saving Grace,” “Honor’s Splendor,”  “The Secret” manage, despite some rediculousness, to suggest the fairy tale which underlies all romance fiction without cloying the taste buds.  And they do it while delighting.

  19. 19
    dick says:

    An “i” not an “e.”  Note to self:  Proofread, idiot.

  20. 20
    LEW says:

    I can’t even express my love of Garwood books – she’s the one who got me into the genera.  A friend handed me my first romance ever, it was the THE SECRET, and I was hooked.  This is not one of my absolute favorites, but still deliciously awesome.  My favorite all-time Garwood (and perhaps romance) is HONOR’S SPLENDOR. And I really enjoy her contemporary thrillers – MERCY and SHADOW DANCE are my favorite (I love Noah!). 

    I agree with Sandy that SHADOW MUSIC was a disappointment.  But I have faith that Garwood will give us another excellent historical one day, though!

    Also, I’ve read an ARC of Maya Bank’s IN BED WITH A HIGHLANDER and it is very Garwood-esque. People might want to check it out when it’s published.

  21. 21
    Jeannie says:

    Can I just say for the umpteenth time how much I enjoy Redheaded Girl’s reviews? There, it’s said. Even if the book is not for me, the recap is ridonkulously good! Heh.

    “He also has reasons for his dickishness, he’s not a dick without a cause.” This made James Dean pop into my head, which is not necessarily a bad thing.

    “Is this the one where she keeps sleeping on the floor?”
    @HeidiK – I don’t know why but this made me giggle.

  22. 22
    Joanne says:

    My apologies to RedHeadedGirl.

    I always associate Sarah’s red headed avi with her – and since I have the retention of a gnat –  I forgot who actually wrote the review.

    Thank You RedHeadedGirl!

    @ms bookjunkie: I forgot that Lyon thought she fell out of bed! So funny.

  23. 23

    Haha sounds just about perfect. I haven’t come across this…ever but it sounds just super.

  24. 24
    ShellBell says:

    I love Julie Garwood’s historicals and I’m glad I’m not the only one underwhelmed by Shadow Music. I think my favourite’s are Honor’s Splendor, The Prize and Ransom and I’m glad that most of them are now available as eBooks. I just wish Jude Deveraux’s The Black Lyon was available as an eBook!

  25. 25
    Stef says:

    I love garwood, especially Honour’s Splendour, Saving Grace, and The Gift.  I didn’t read this one but I have read the spin-offs.  Lyon and Christina make an appearance in Guardian Angel, and those characters are relatives of the heroes in The Gift and Castles.  I wasn’t tempted to read The Lyons Lady (probably because I’m kinda tired of all the Lyons, Ravens, and Hawkes in romance) but the others are good.

  26. 26
    Noelinya says:

    I’ve just read this book last month and I liked it for the same reasons you give !

    I love when she is angry with him she decided not to be married with him any longer, so she puts all his shoes outside, and the servants are all “ok, let’s put his stuff out eventhough he is the boss”.
    And when she keeps cutting her hair when she’s angry or sad or in mourning, and I remeber thinking “she will have a lovely urchin cut by the end of the book” !!

  27. 27
    beggar1015 says:

    This is on my keeper shelf. Although I disagree with Redhead about

    in private, she comes off as terrified and weak and needing Lyon to protect her

    I never felt that from Christina’s character. The one weakness I got from her was being too much worried about other people’s feelings, but I never thought she needed Lyon to protect her. This is just my all-important opinion.  :)

    I loved her old-as-dirt butler. “You got yourself a visitor, Princess.”
    “Cast out, my lord, pushed aside, forgotten, dead in her heart—”

  28. 28
    Olivia says:

    There are entire paragraphs of The Bride that I can still quote verbatim. I love how casual Garwood’s historical heroines are about the hero’s supposed badassery—they just pat him on the head and say, “I know, dear, you’re very frightening, but we’re going to do this my way, mmmkay?”

  29. 29
    Rebecca says:

    Ok, so I should probably just get the book and read it to find out, but inquiring minds want to know….why the SIOUX in the Dakotas, at least fifty years before they’d have any contact with Europeans?  Are any of Christina’s special knife-throwing super-skillz particularly Sioux in origin?  Because (aside from geographical impossibility) your description of the prologue reminded me of anthropologist Mari Sandoz’ memoir These Were the Sioux:

    An Indian woman bent over the new baby in her lap.  At the noise of our excitement, the tiny red-brown face began to pucker up tighter, but the mother caught the little nose gently between her thumb and forefinger, and with her palm over the mouth, stopped the crying.  When the baby began to twist for breath she let go a little, but only a little, and at the first sign of another cry she shut off the air again, crooning a soft little song as she did this, a growing song of the Plains Indians, to make the boy straight-limbed and strong of body and heart, as a grandson of Bad Arm must be.

    I watched the mother enviously.  Our babies always cried, and so I had to ride them on my hip, but I knew that none of our small Indian friends made more than a whimper at the greatest hurt…Now I saw what an old woman had tried to explain to me.  During the newborn minutes, that newborn hour, Indian children, boy and girl, were taught the greatest lesson of their lives: that no one could be permitted to endanger the people by even one cry to guide a roving enemy to the village or to spoil a hunt that could mean the loss of the winter meat for the whole band or even a small tribe.

    So on the whole, a toddler who “bellows like a lion” (a mountain lion, aka cougar, I assume?) would be considered both woefully uncivilized and an active danger to the food supply, more asking to be exposed in a blizzard than adopted.  Garwood might have done better with a mother who fled to Spanish California, and left a baby with the Yurok, who do indeed have shamans who have dream visions, and where ritual crying is important.  Or perhaps with the Cherokee in Georgia, or the Mohawks in New York who had extensive contacts with English and Dutch colonists.  Or, if she wanted logical geography and/or real lions, the Eastern European princess could have fled to the much closer Ottoman empire and from there to North Africa or Persia, where there would have been classical lions to roar like.  So, why the Sioux?

    Rest of the book sounds cool, though.

  30. 30

    it’s totally ridiculous.  Utterly.  This is one of the things that makes the plot, you know, ridiculous.

    Dances With Wolves came out in 1990, this was published in 1991.  That may be a coincidence, it may not be.  But there it is.

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