Retro Review: Shadow Music by Julie Garwood

Posted February 22, 2017 by Holly in Discussions, Reviews | 15 Comments

Retro Review: Shadow Music by Julie GarwoodReviewer: Holly
Shadow Music by Julie Garwood
Series: Highlands Lairds #3
Also in this series: Shadow Music , Ransom, The Secret (Highlands' Lairds #1), Ransom (Highlands' Lairds, #2), Shadow Music
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Publication Date: 2008
Genres: Fiction
Pages: 438
Add It: Goodreads
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Ripped Bodice | Google Play Books
Series Rating: four-stars

Throughout her acclaimed writing career, Julie Garwood has captivated readers with characters who are compelling, daring, and bursting with life. Now one of the most popular novelists of our time proudly returns to her beloved historical romance roots–in a thrilling tale of love, murder, adventure, and mystery set against the haunting landscape of medieval Scotland.
For Princess Gabrielle of St. Biel, Scotland is a land of stunning vistas, wild chieftains, treacherous glens, and steep shadows–skullduggery, betrayal, and now murder. Prized for her exquisite beauty, the daughter of one of England’s most influential barons, Gabrielle is also a perfect bargaining chip for a king who needs peace in the Highlands: King John has arranged Gabrielle’s marriage to a good and gentle laird. But this marriage will never take place.
For Gabrielle, everything changes in one last burst of freedom–when she and her guards come upon a scene of unimaginable cruelty. With one shot from her bow and arrow, Gabrielle takes a life, saves a life, and begins a war.
Within days, the Highlands are aflame with passions as a battle royal flares between enemies old and new. Having come to Scotland to be married, Gabrielle is instead entangled in Highland intrigue. For two sadistic noblemen, underestimating Gabrielle’s bravery and prowess may prove fatal. But thanks to a secret Gabrielle possesses, Colm MacHugh, the most feared man in Scotland, finds a new cause for courage. Under his penetrating gaze, neither Gabrielle’s body nor heart is safe.
A gripping novel that delves into the heart of emotions–unyielding passions of love, hate, revenge, and raw desire–Shadow Music is magnificent gift from Julie Garwood and a crowning achievement in her amazing career.
From the Hardcover edition.

******As part of our 10 year anniversary celebration, we’ll be re-posting old reviews that make us cringe, laugh or sigh all over again.

Man, I love me some early Julie Garwood historicals. She lost me with her romantic suspense. I remember being so excited when she announced she was releasing a new historical. I’m still pretty disappointed it didn’t live up to my expectations. I wonder what would happen if I read it now? I might need to reread it and see if I still feel the same. 

This review was originally published January 8, 2008

This is less a review about this particular book and more my thoughts on the writing of Julie Garwood. Casee reviewed the book here. You can check that out for a plot summary and her thoughts, for they mostly mirrored mine.

Throughout her career, JG has remained a favorite of mine. Well, let me clarify. Prior to Killjoy she was a favorite of mine. Her historicals still call to me on occasion and I find myself picking them up at random, anxious to sink into an old, comfortable story, similar to how I might slip on my favorite sweats after a long day at work, or pop in a favorite DVD if I’ve had a particularly bad day.

But after Killjoy, not only did I think contemps were not her thing, I decided her writing itself deteriorated. The last novel I read by her was Slow Burn. While I enjoyed the basic premise behind it, I was sadly disappointed in the actual writing. Sentences were choppy, paragraphs seemed to bleed together, or go in odd directions that made no sense to me, dialogue was stilted, characters were half formed or one dimensional. I thought the plot was an awesome one, and had it been better fleshed out it had the potential to become her best written novel yet. But instead it fell far short.

After that, I decided not to read another of her contemps. I told myself, and others, that I’d buy her again if she went back to historicals, but otherwise I was done with her. I removed her from my auto-buy list and comforted myself with her old historicals, the ones that got me hooked on romance to begin with.

Then the announcement came. That yes, Julie Garwood, historical legend, would be returning to her roots. Love her older historicals or hate them, you can’t deny she’s a basic staple in romance. I was happy to hear she’d be returning, but somewhat apprehensive. Because although the moment I’d been waiting for had finally come, I was concerned about her actual writing style. The way she wove a story back when was unconventional perhaps, but still engaging. I didn’t think she’d be able to return to that, not after seeing evidence of her decline in her more recent novels.

I’m sad to say I was correct. She may have done quite a bit of head-hopping in her previous novels, but the focus remained on the two main protagonists. In this novel, however, she chose to write in a more narrative style than from one POV or another. So I was constantly pulled out of the story by her glossing over things, or seeming to sum things up. Very frustrating.

I’m also extremely unclear about how they H/H came to fall in love. There was hardly any interaction between the two, and what there was was disjointed and…once again, glossed over. There seemed to be no rhyme or reason to her writing. A chapter would start out from one POV or another, and then half-way through she’d jump into a narrative style, summing things up rather than allowing us as readers to follow the progress.

I suppose it would be like me starting a story, in which I use rich, colorful detail and much humor only to say, once you’re engaged and intrigued, “Blah blah, yada, yada, you get what I mean” and then just leave it at that. Frustrating, no?

There were some good parts. When the POV was written from either the hero or heroine, I was drawn into the story. Unfortunately, those parts were few and far between, and when they did happen, they didn’t last long. The basic premise was also a good one, and classic Garwood. Sadly, the point of the plot was lost somewhere in the muddle of switching from one writing style to another, the jumping between characters and places (i.e., from the Barons in England to the clans in the Highlands to the heroine to the hero to the guards of the heroine to her father back to the barons to the king of England, etc, etc) and the mass amount of inconsistencies presented.

A lot of the reviews I’ve read for this book said the Priests provided a lot of comic relief, but I didn’t really see that. Sure, there were some amusing parts, but I think I assumed they played a bigger part in the overall story (with actual read time, I mean) and that just didn’t seem to be the case.

I’m sure I’ll end up buying her next book (assuming she continues to write historicals), just to see if she somehow improves…hmm, or perhaps that’s not the right word. Regresses into her old writing habits? Goes back to being the Garwood I knew and loved? I’m not sure. I have a feeling I’m going to be sorely disappointed when (if) that time comes, however.

On a related note: Ange, The Romance Groupie, posted about this book on Saturday. I mentioned my disappointment in the overall writing in the comments, and she responded with this:

Actually, I’ve noticed that many of the popular authors appear to be going down in the quality department. I’m wondering if it’s the editors, publishers, etc. that are ruining it. It just seems strange that so many great authors have gone bad in the last year or so. Is it just me? Are you seeing this trend too?

I thought about it some, and yes, I have to agree. Some of my favorite authors have seriously declined in the last few years. Could it be because of the publishers or editors? Or is it just simply something with them personally?

Regardless, I’m disappointed.

Even though I said this was less a review and more my thoughts on JG’s writing as a whole, I’ll still rate the book:

2.5 out of 5

You can buy it here in hardback or in eBook format here. When I bought it from Books on Board, they were offering a $5 cash-back incentive, bringing the total book price down to $9.95. I’m not sure if they’re still offering the promotion, but you could email them to see.


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15 responses to “Retro Review: Shadow Music by Julie Garwood

  1. hmm, I was afraid of this. Yeah, I probably won’t bother.

    As far as fav authors going down hill, I’ve been lamenting this for awhile now. I truly believe it’s the author’s themselves who’ve lost their way.

    I suppose I would get burned out too after awhile.

  2. I have this on hold at my library so I will definitely read it, but every review I have read about Shadow Music has been the same which means less then stellar reviews.

    As Zeek just said, writers get burnt out, especially after 20 odd years of writing. Even Stephen King said he can’t write like he used to and will only write when he has an idea and goes with it.

  3. Thanks for the mention & link on your blog, Holly!

    On the issue of the quality decrease from popular authors:
    Another explaination could be that more popular authors are having trouble because the romance genre and writing style preferred by readers is undergoing a metamorphosis. It’s a cycle that happens naturally – like when we transitioned away from the “forced seduction” style romance of the 80’s. And I have noticed that the love scenes, in general, are far more graphic in language and content and basically more… raw, I guess you could say, than in the past. So times are definitely a-changin’ IMO.

    Also, when we read an older book maybe our expectations are different – I think I subconsciously make allowances for the writing style of earlier published books.
    Examples: Linda Howard’s older heroes were sometimes (OK, a lot of times) chauvanistic bastards. But I love them. However, if an author came out with a hero like that now – would I be so enamored? Probably not.

    Another example is JG, I loved her historicals too – but lets be honest, most of those heroes treated the women (in many ways) like children. Which sort of goes with the time-period of the historical novel but still… would we be as accepting of a new hero that treated the heroine that way?

    So I guess I’m now speculating that the older popular authors might be having a hard time finding their ‘groove’ in the new romance genre environment. Are they (or the publishers/editors) trying to morph their characters & interactions into more modern “PC” versions and inadvertantly making them crap? Or like Katie said – are they just running out of ideas? Because despite the fact that so many established authors are going down there are some FABULOUS new authors that are putting out pure gold.

  4. This is so, so disappointing, but I admit, not unexpected. I’m up for doing a re-read of a fave McNaught from almost 20 years ago, and it bothers me that I can’t find books today that can equal the feelings that book created for me.

    Or maybe I’m just becoming too jaded in my reading. The “crush” feeling is gone and my rose-colored glasses are off, and reality has a way of making things less romantic.

    Thank God for keepers…

  5. I too feel as if a lot of my favorite authors have let me down in the past couple of years.

    I wouldn’t touch a new JMcNaught book with a ten foot pole for example. SEP’s latest two books have been so blah and been-there-done-that that I wonder if she has a form in her computer and just fills in the blank with new names and characters *sigh*

    SKenyon is another one that I don’t want to read anymore. Even Ash’s story doesn’t hold that much interest at this point. V. Sad really.

    What I see in these authors is: lack of imagination, repetitive plots from book to book, a sort of sloppy attitute toward their writing.

    I think they maybe run out of ideas or of a way to express them in paper, or maybe we just get tired of them.

  6. I agree with you on SK. Do you think there is any possibility of a ‘rebirth’ of the DH series after Ash?

    I’ve seen the same thing happening with the “Queen of Paranormal” Christine Feehan as well. In all three of her major series’ (Dark, Game, and Sisters) the last couple of books have been a disappointment. Still, I continue to throw my money away on her books just hoping for a better product.

  7. I wondered if Garwood was beyond her magic. I can’t fault an author for following their muse but I can miss who they once were. Like you I loved Garwood’s historicals. Sure they were a little silly but the whole story was about two people falling in love. I left after her first contemporary when a woman and a man (won’t call them the H/H because there were many characters running around) decided they were in love. WTF? I don’t think they even cast an ‘appreciative eye’ at one another before this declaration.

    To me, she doesn’t want to write romance anymore and if she does, then someone needs to reign her in. A critic partner who can say ‘where’s the love!?’

    I miss the love.


  8. Re: I agree with you on SK. Do you think there is any possibility of a ‘rebirth’ of the DH series after Ash?

    Ange, I don’t know. I think she got lost somewhere in the series. Too many books, too many things going on that don’t make sense, too much of the same ideas too little of the good/interesting writing.

    I’ll read Ash’s story because I think she wrote it a long time ago, maybe when she had more interest in writing a good story than in making more DH books to earn more money.

  9. Ange,
    Another excellent point. Care to guest blog with us? LOL

    I agree, although I don’t think I’d mind so much if a book came out right now with a hero like some of LH’s old ones. If I met a man like that in RL? Yeah, I’d have issues, but reading about it? Not so much. As a matter of fact, I think Lucy Monroe writes heroes similar to LH’s old ones, and I truly enjoy them, and their stories.

    But I do wonder if you aren’t correct about them finding their toehold in this new environment. That, or they could just be tapped out. My mind still boggles at the sheer number of (well written) stories Nora Roberts comes up with.

  10. Hi! Im really happy Im not the only one whos noticed the change in JG’s writing. I have been a huge fan of hers and I have all of her old books but I just cant get myself to buy her contemporary novels because I felt the plot and the writing and the characters have lost fire. I did buy Shadow Music and was really disappointed especially since I re-read Ransom (one of my most fave JG Highlander themed novels) before SM. You can really tell that the characters are undeveloped and the spark between the hero and heroine was non-existent and the plot was like HUH? Also, I find that her novels titles are usually related to the story but for SM, the only time it was “referred” to was the sound of Colm’s sword before killing — I thought that was really lame. I really wish this was just a bad writing spell for JG and not because of anything else (ie. shes getting old or shes forced to write this way) as I cant bear replace her as my most favorite author. 🙁

  11. nikkiphilton

    I wondered why I didn’t remember reading this, because I think I read all of her historicals (except for the Roses–I just couldn’t get in to those). And your review reassures me that I don’t need to read it. I still want to go back and reread Honour’s Splendor and The Bride and maybe a couple of others.
    However, I do enjoy her romantic suspense novels.

    • Honor’s Splendour is one of my favorite Garwood novels. In fact, it may be one of my favorite romances, period. I absolutely recommend you read it. The Bride is good, too, but not quite as good as Honor’s Splendour

  12. I listened to this one in audio years ago and enjoyed it. And I will be honest I love her Historical’s. I think I always will. I had no clue that she was returning to them. That makes me a little nervous though. Because it doesn’t always work out.

    I do agree that I think publishers or editors can ruin an authors writing. I think for some authors, they pressure them to write a certain style to satisfy a audience instead of writing what they are actually good at. Some of my old favorites I don’t read anymore because they don’t write good romances any more and its pretty sad to see that happen.

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