I don’t often pick up romance novels, as I find the plot too predictable. However, A Reluctant Bride by Jody Hedlund caught my eye because it’s set partly in Victoria, British Columbia. I love historical novels, particularly novels about places I’ve visited or lived. And A Reluctant Bride also tells a part of BC history that I was unaware of—bride ships.
I received this novel for review courtesy of the publicist; all opinions expressed remain my own. This post contains affiliate links; as an Amazon associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.
Mercy Wilkins has grown up in the slums of London. She’s used to being hungry and dirty, to taking care of her younger siblings and the other children of the neighbourhood. One of her sisters is already in the workhouse, and two of her brothers have left home to seek work on their own. When Mercy’s mother loses her job, Mercy must also leave.
A chance comment leads her to the Columbia Mission Society, which is filling a bride ship bound for British Columbia. Mercy doesn’t know where British Columbia is and has no intention of getting married, but she takes the last spot on the ship. It gives her a chance at a new life far away from London—and if she can get a job there, she can get her sister out of the workhouse.
Patience had always believed God never let their troubles go to waste, that He was always using them to bring about good, often in ways they couldn’t see. Mercy had tried to be like her sister, to have the same strong faith, to believe that God was with them in their afflictions. But she’d never been quite as strong as Patience.
Dr. Joseph Colville is a baron on the run. After losing his parents and brother to an epidemic, he’s thrown himself into his medical practice and his travels. Like Mercy, he doesn’t find out the Tynemouth is a bride ship until he’s already committed to the journey. As he tried to take care of the brides and the other immigrants on the ship, he runs into Mercy.
Despite their differing stations in life, both Mercy and Joseph are drawn together by their compassion for those around them. Both are willing to put aside their own needs and desires to help others on the ship. Yet even as they grow to respect and like each other, forces push them apart. Mercy’s chaperones insist that she has no contact with any men on the boat, not even the doctor. And neither Joseph nor Mercy plan to get married, despite their growing attraction to each other…
My Thoughts on A Reluctant Bride
Predictable plot aside, I thoroughly enjoyed A Reluctant Bride. Jody Hedlund paints a grimly realistic picture of London in 1862. I could almost smell the stench in which Mercy lived, both in the slums and then on the Tynemouth. It was easy to understand the desperation that would drive Mercy and other women like her to board a boat bound for the other side of the world, to marry a stranger and make a new life for themselves.
Mercy jumps off the pages at the reader. I almost wanted to speak her dialogue aloud, to hear the way it rolled off the tongue. Her speech was one way that the London slums came alive through this novel. Mercy’s emotional struggles with her losses and hard life were also very real. Her desire not to be like her mother, not bring children into a world of poverty, were understandable. And while Mercy’s new friends recognize her character and worth, Mercy has been put down so often in her life that she continues to devalue herself.
“Oh, God,” she whispered, “I’ve blamed you for so long, figured you didn’t care. But I’m guessing you care even more about the lost ones than I do, that you’re feeling the sorrow right well enough, but that you keep on loving.” Was that what she needed to do—let her sorrow increase her ability to love?
Joseph and the other characters were equally interesting and unique. Again, the dialogue set the characters apart. Joseph often speaks formally, as befits a baron. And the loquacious speeches of the reverend Mr. Scott, one of the chaperones, were worthy of Jane Austen’s Mr. Collins. I wanted to know about Miss Lawrence, a reserved young woman who requires Mercy’s nursing skills and attempts to help Mercy in return. Her story is told (as I hoped!) in The Runaway Bride, the next book in the series!
I appreciated Jody’s Author’s Note at the end of the novel, explaining the historic details upon which she based A Reluctant Bride. As I mentioned, I hadn’t heard about the bride ships bound from England to Vancouver Island in the 1860s. I was fascinated by Jody’s descriptions of Esquimalt Harbour and Victoria in the late 1800s. While the main characters are fictional, their stories are based upon real people.
Finally, I also enjoyed the characters’ character development and growth in faith through the pages of A Reluctant Bride. Both Mercy and Joseph have faced deep losses which they’ve attempted to run from in their own ways. Each struggles with faith, but must find healing before they can love each other. I found myself reading the last third of the book in a rush, trying to see how Joseph and Mercy would overcome their personal pain to find each other. It isn’t an easy answer, yet it never is, so I liked the fact that Jody let her characters struggle through the pages as we so often struggle in real life.
Jody has been married for twenty-five years to her college sweetheart. They have five children, ranging in ages from college sophmore to sixth grade, including twin daughters. Although Jody prefers to experience daring and dangerous adventures through her characters rather than in real life, she’s learned that a calm existence is simply not meant to be (at least in this phase of her life!).
When she’s not penning another of her page-turning stories or homeschooling her children, she loves to spend her time reading, especially when it also involves consuming coffee and chocolate. She also has a dog and five cats.
Jody Hedlund is the author of over a dozen novels and has been a finalist for the Christy Awards. She’s also written eight young adult novels and two historical novels about famous figures (Martin Luther and John Newton). A Reluctant Bride is the first book in the Bride Ships series. It’s also the first book by Jody that I’ve read.
What’s your favourite Jody Hedlund novel? Have you heard about the bride ships?