Saturday, October 2, 2010

The Preacher's Bride by Jody Hedlund

One of the fun things about making writer friends on the internet is that it leads me to explore unfamiliar genres.* I have never been a reader of inspirational fiction, and fortunately found a recent webinar to explain to me what it is. Apparently "inspirational" covers a wide variety of sub-genres, the connecting feature being that the characters have a spiritual arc as well as the usual emotional one. That's a little confusing to sort out in my head, so instead I'll adopt the Jane definition, which is that inspirational fiction keeps swearing, graphic sex and dwelt-upon violence to a minimum, appeals mostly to women and aims at telling a good story. It is moving away from the wishy-washiness of the past and is positioning itself to appeal to secular audiences as well as the traditional Christian ones.

The Preacher's Bride, which went on full release October 1, is Jody Hedlund's début novel. It is NOT an Amish book as the cover might suggest. It is set at the end of the Puritan era in England, when the Royalists are just poised to bring back the King and regain control of the country. It is based on the story of John Bunyan, the author of The Pilgrim's Progress, although the names and many incidents, including the ending, have been fictionalized.

In many ways The Preacher's Bride is a straightforward, well-written romance: when tinker and lay preacher John Costin's wife dies, strong-willed Elizabeth Whitbread becomes his housekeeper and cares for his children. Will romance blossom? You bet it will. Like all good romances, the spark between the characters is obvious from the beginning, and the interest lies in seeing how they both work through their own feelings to their inevitable destination. In romances sexual attraction is not enough, and the situation is never fully resolved until there is also an emotional bond based on trust and shared experiences. The Preacher's Bride plays by all of these rules.

What I found interesting was the background of a society in transition: I got a good sense of the radical split between the Puritan and Royalist factions, and the way a lay preacher fitted--or didn't fit--into a religious structure (in an era where the church ruled the country) which was just about to change. Those were violent times, and this is well represented; I had never really thought about just how vulnerable women were then, and I think that this was rather well brought out.

I liked Elizabeth Whitbread's ordinariness: she's plain, she can't read, and she has a practical turn of mind. Despite her strong will she can be pretty submissive; that and her overwhelming desire to get married and have babies are a bit irritating to this modern woman, but I did try to bear in mind that anything else would have been anachronistic, given the historical era and Elizabeth's social position.

I would have loved to have seen more description of what this part of England was like; John Costin spends a lot of time striding over a landscape that you never really see. I also had some issues with the way the characters spoke, which was possibly too uniform in tone given all the social and educational differences that could be found in the novel.

But my overall impression was of an enjoyable read with a good strong ending and plenty of appeal to a reader looking for a satisfying story.

* in the interests of full disclosure - I received a review copy from the author.


Lydia Sharp said...

Great review!

I have never read this type of fiction either, but this sounds very intriguing. Also, I *heart* Jody's blog, so that factored into my interest as well. She's great. :)

moonrat said...

Thanks for the review, Jane. I'll chime in to second Lydia's comment!