First let me hasten to assure you that while the cover of Love’s Pursuit features a woman with a head-covering, this is not Amish fiction; it is Puritan fiction, a much less developed genre. With the glut of Amish fiction in the CFBA (Christian Fiction Blog Alliance) marketplace, I rarely, if ever, venture into that particular sub-genre. Actually, I rarely delve into the entire historical romance genre. A healthy interest in Puritan culture combined with a piqued interest in author Siri Mitchell – the result of reading rave reviews for her earlier historical novel A Constant Heart — led me to engage her latest release. I’m glad I did.
The rather stereotypical cover and minimal promotional copy on the back cover seem to point to a rather formulaic novel, a safe comfortable read with a foregone conclusion. What I found however was a skillfully penned tale contrasting freedom and bondage, grace and religion, love and duty, while drawing mystery, romance and, yes, a bit of history into the mix.
Susannah Phillips is young woman on the verge of marriage, considered an honorable woman who will surely make a competent goodwife by her peers in Stoneybrooke, Massachusetts, a settlement consisting solely of Puritans. Internally she is deeply aware of her sinful nature and personal shortcomings; though she follows the rules and regulations of Puritan living she has yet to have a conversion experience and become a member of the church.
Into this strictly regulated community comes Captain Daniel Holcombe, an outlandish figure to the Puritans with his big hair, big boots, dashing manners, and shocking affiliation with the Church of England. Responding to fears of attack by natives, he has been sent by the Governor to train and establish a militia. Of course being almost promised to John Prescotte (though not in word) and with Simeon Wright the local millwright apparently interested as well, Susannah’s heart should have nothing to fear.
Now as a love story, one would think the direction of the tale can be easily determined, and it part it can be. What sets it above the norm however is an understated villain made all the more frightening by his common tyranny, and a passionate hero who has clearly been cast as a type of Christ. A deeply moving parallel story between the town blacksmith Thomas Smyth and his wife Small-hope add poignant depth, hope, and renewal to the novel as well.
Mitchell’s writing itself is a joy to read. True to period detail, even the thoughts of our heroine Susannah are rendered in a charming, long-ago cadence and rhythm. I’m certainly not an expert on 1640's dialogue but the turns of speech and trains of thought ring true and are consistent throughout.
Though Susannah and I do not ultimately agree about the inner workings and change experienced following conversion, and enough premarital intimacy was shared to make me reluctant to recommend this title to unmarried young women, I was deeply touched by her journey. The Christ-typing of our hero results in a deeper, subtle under-current throughout the story, delivering a spiritual payload that flows naturally from the text.
Lovers of historical fiction should definitely add Love’s Pursuit to their shortlist; it’s unexpected depth, beauty, and quality of prose set it far above the crowd. I look forward to reading more of Mitchell’s work in the future.