MINI-REVIEW: Jody Hedlund’s A RELUCTANT BRIDE

Reluctant_BrideI haven’t read a Hedlund romance in a long time, not since 2013’s Rebellious Heart, a loose telling of Abigail and John Adams’s courtship and marriage (which I loved, btw). The Bride Ship, Book One, has a compelling historical context: a bride ship, in 1862, headed for Vancouver Island and British Columbia with poor women on board preparing to become the wives of the sparse-of-women British colony. One of them is heroine Mercy Wilkins, an angel of “mercy”, a gem, a flower, from the London slums. When we meet Mercy, she hurries towards the Shoreditch Dispensary with an ill child. Instead of the kindly, but getting-on Dr. Bates, a new, handsome doctor (more of him later) is ministering to the poorest of the poor, like Mercy, like the baby in her arms, like everyone in this wretched neighbourhood. When Mercy’s family has to eject yet another of her mother’s many children, Mercy, in hopes she can help her sister Patience leave the workhouse and at Patience’s urging, agrees to board the bride-ship.

Who is on board as ship’s surgeon but the young doctor she met in the dispensary, Joseph Colville, Lord Colville, Baron of Wiltshire. Throughout the long, difficult voyage, Joseph and Mercy are drawn to each other; at first, by necessity, as Mercy’s lack of seasickness leaves her free to assist Joseph; then, by friendship; eventually, by love and powerful attraction. Joseph and Mercy have so much against their being together. Neither wants to marry and both have numbed their feelings to survive emotional and, in Mercy’s case, physical, suffering. Joseph lost his family to cholera and is fleeing his grief by travelling the world and avoiding his lordly duties in England. Mercy, having watched her mother struggle to survive, negligent of her children (though Hedlund, to her credit, doesn’t play the evil mother card, Twiggy, Mercy’s mother, is feckless and ignorant, but not deliberately cruel) vows never to marry. Twiggy did what many women in her position had to. Mercy swears to never marry, having witnessed what marriage means, mouths one can’t feed and doesn’t have the strength, time, or energy to mourn. Two young souls, Mercy and Joseph, despite their differing social standing, find affection, mutual respect, admiration for each other’s strengths, and an overwhelming passion (to which they don’t succumb because this is an inspie after all).

The first half of Hedlund’s novel is stronger than the second. Her sympathetic description of the London slums, the tempest-tossed voyage, and Joseph and Mercy’s work ministering to the ship’s passengers make for powerful stuff. In particular, there’s one wonderful scene when Joseph and Mercy are thrown together, literally thanks to the sea’s roughness, that is sexy and moving, without anything by way of sexy times. While I enjoyed Hedlund’s descriptions and historical context, I can’t say I much liked her protagonists. Mercy is too good to be true: her ministering angel to all and sundry pushed the boundaries of believability. While I enjoy sentimentality and melodrama à la Little Nell, I wished would shut up with her exclamations of “blessed angel” and “little lamb”. It brought out the sarcastic curled lip in me. I liked Joseph better, believed in his emotional quandary: losing your family is HARD and being left quite alone as he was, no wonder he ran. Like Mercy, he was all about restraint and giving, but I liked it when he had to control those base instincts when Mercy innocently raised her baby blues at him. 

The second half of Hedlund’s romance grew tedious as Joseph and Mercy skirted their love and desire. I never bought either of their reasons for staying apart, but Hedlund had an didactic axe to grind in keeping them apart, an axe too oft repeated in inspirational romance and which I find utterly weird and historically skewed. Firstly, in a general sense, as Joseph and Mercy grapple with God and His purpose for them, it’s hard to believe in the terms in which they think. They sound like evangelical Christians, not Victorians, which is what they are. Sometimes, the light “God” touch as in the Griep I just read can work and sometimes it induces eye rolls. Too bad the latter was truer of Reluctant Bride. Secondly, Hedlund wanted to bring home the point that an aristocratic class system, as Mercy and Joseph would’ve been a part of, breaks the idea that people are created equal. She uses Mercy and Joseph’s cross-class differences to illustrate this theological point. This makes sense, but it doesn’t diminish the novel’s finger-wagging propensities. Though I enjoyed parts of Hedlund’s Reluctant Bride, I can’t say I’ll be on board for Bride Ships two. With Miss Austen, we say Reluctant Bride “had a high claim to forebearance,” Emma.

Jody Hedlund’s A Reluctant Bride is published by Bethany House Publishers. It was released on June 4th and may be found at your preferred vendor. I received an e-ARC from Bethany House, via Netgalley.

20 thoughts on “MINI-REVIEW: Jody Hedlund’s A RELUCTANT BRIDE

  1. The first half had an almost quasi-Carla Kelly-ish feeling to me based on your beautiful summary, but that second half sounds like a real party pooper. I really prefer not being beat over the head with the hammer of ‘God’ and sadly just about every inspie I’ve tried did just that.

    As I read that first section, I recalled an interesting tidbit of information and local/regional connection to ‘bride ships’ as well as a French Connection – er… not the ‘Popeye’ Doyle shoot em up one, a Vive Le France one.

    When colonists settled in Mobile and Dauphin Island along the Gulf Coast conditions were miserable, primitive, without comfort of any kind. This struggling French colony needed those settlers to stay but the mostly male settlement was having a rough time. To ease some of the suffering and to populate this little bit of France, women from convents and orphanages in France were rounded up and brought to the colonists to marry to hopefully quiet the grumbling rumblings of ‘I want to go home, home! Back to Canada! To France! Anywhere but here!’ *shaking fists in the air a la Scarlett O’Hara* Plus hopefully lots of little French boys and girls would ensue and VOILA a thriving French colony in the wilds of America!

    These girls aged 14-19 were all virgins (of course!) not prostitutes or convicts, penniless, without prospects of any kind, were chosen by the Bishop of Quebec, and sent to Mobile, Biloxi, and New Orleans by King Louis XIV, escorted by priests and nuns from Sisters of Charity.

    I’ve always found Interesting the nicknames they were given: Pelican Girls (for the ship Le Pelican which transported them) but also Cassette or Casket Girls because of the boxes called casquettes which held all their belongings in the world! Ive often wondered what became of the Casket Girls once they arrived. Did they marry? Were they happy, content? I know some died on the journey here. But still those that survived the journey, what happened to them? It would make a fascinating book I think.

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    • Kathy
      Thomas Costain included some of the Casket Girls’ story in his novel High Towers, a oldie but goodie about the LeMoyne brothers of early Montreal (who variously explored, founded New Orleans, Mobile, Biloxi and so on).
      I read this book to pieces as a teen and still have that very bettered copy on my ‘keeper’ shelf–though it has been years since my last re-read

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      • Thomas B. Costain: I read his The Black Rose till it was falling apart. I loved his books, but I didn’t know this one. Wonder if his books are still in print?

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        • Barb: Thank you! I went immediately to Amazon to research and lo and behold found an old paperback Bantam Giant used copy for $3! The whopping (original) $.35 price is stamped boldly on the upper right corner! Very er dramatic cover – young lady in flounces and ruffles and a mantilla or veil being handed from a row boat by an eager young lad with a view of a ship off in the distance. The lad’s eyebrows are practically dancing up and down with glee, but she? Ah mademoiselle is looking off into the distance with a faintly troubled expression on her fair face. Methinks it’s because she’s surrounded by men on the pier! One appears to be tying the boat to a post all the while leering at her backside. There’s a Native American manacled to another post most likely looking for a chance to escape. Another man with a musket gun looking unimpressed with the whole shebang and yet one more with a mustache who would do Tom Selleck proud. He just looks bored.

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          • Hi Miss Bates,
            I have never commented on your blog, although I do read your blog at least once a month, and have found some really nice romances via your reviews So thank you. But after seeing a recommendation (by a reader) on your site for “Heaven In His Arms” I felt I could not keep silent.
            The romance world is in short supply of Canadian-set historicals, and as I am Canadian who loves historical romances, I was eager to pick up “Heaven In His Arms.” It sounded like my cup of tea. I read both the linked review, and the KOBO reviews, before I downloaded the free book by Lisa Ann Verge, an author I have not read until now. I have read the book, and it is not one I would ever recommend.
            It started off well enough, I suppose, but it quickly dissolved into a problematic mess (in Chapter 4) for me when the male MC compares the female MC’s actions to a “brandy-crazed” racial slur that is still used in Canada to describe Indigenous Women. That racial slur is repeated 22 times throughout this short-length book. The book also portrays harmful stereotypes toward Indigenous People.
            As to the romance between these two white French settlers; it’s old skool. with the usual dubious/rape scene romance readers are “supposed” to find romantic.

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            • Dear Suzanne, I really really appreciate your comment. It’s important that we have all perspectives on a blog and yours is most welcome.

              Given our national shame and the loss and neglect of so many Indigenous people, it’s imperative that we stay vigilant to their portrayal.

              On a lighter note, thank you for reading the blog and reading romance et. al. The world needs more readers.

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            • Hi Suzanne, it’s been some time since I read “Heaven in His Arms”, so I don’t recall the slurs you mentioned. I will now take a new look at it with heightened sensitivity.

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            • Thank You, Miss Bates, for listening to my concerns. I admit I was nervous about posting. It’s your blog, after all, so I wasn’t sure how much I should say about this book that was published in 1994, or just leave my thoughts as content warnings.

              Hi Karin: I appreciate you taking the time to reevaluate the book. It means a lot.

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            • Gosh, no thanks necessary, none at all. Discussion is always open here, I hope; that’s certainly my intention. I’m glad you commented and did so beatifully, and I hope you’ll feel comfortable should you wish to in future.

              Whatever you’re reading now, I hope you’re enjoying it!

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