Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Book Review: The Captive Bride

Second novel in the House of Winslow saga, The Captive Bride picks up roughly eighteen years after the close of The Honorable Imposter, with Gilbert and Humility Winslow's only son Matthew. A strong-willed young man who takes heavily after his father, Matthew dreams of adventure far greater than what he can find in the New World. With the help of his Uncle Edward, now a successful trader and businessman, Matthew finds his way to England to make his fortune.

Almost from the start I had problems with this book. While I realize that the focus of the stories is on Gilbert Winslow and his descendants, what happened to his brother Edward in the intervening years? At the end of The Honorable Imposter, Edward was happily married to a widow with four children of her own - what happened there to make Matthew the last of the Winslow line, and transform Edward into a seagoing bachelor merchant? We have no idea. The whole family just vanished into an inconvenient plot hole.

A more serious issue is the book's pacing. Where The Honorable Imposter took a couple of years, The Captive Bride powers through a span of around thirty-five years. The disconnected nature of the time skips makes it feel as though the novel is really just a collection of three short novellas, each connected only by a few familiar characters.

The first story takes place primarily in Restoration England as Charles II returns from exile. It is there that Matthew meets and marries his bride, Lydia, though the story is far more interested in portraying a young John Bunyan in the years before he writes Pilgrim's Progress. But by the end of the story, Matthew is gone and presumed dead, and a heart-broken Lydia is on a boat bound for Plymouth, accompanied by her father-in-law Gilbert.

The next story takes place fifteen years later, during the first year of King Philip's War. Here we meet Rachel, Matthew and Lydia's daughter, now a young woman of fifteen. This story has the most action, as Rachel goes through a trial that shapes the direction of her life. Finally, the third story takes place during the Salem Witch Trials, some seventeen years after Book Two.

The biggest problem this book runs into is that the main characters just aren't that interesting, and they don't actually do much. Outside of the denouement in Book Two where Rachel makes Major Life Decisions while a captive of King Philip's band of marauding Indians, the Winslows largely serve as bystanders. They witness the actions of historical figures, but they don't really have any impact by themselves.

It's also interesting that for a book largely read by conservative evangelicals, the depictions of faith are remarkably charismatic and literal. Lydia almost literally hears the Voice of God. Rachel anoints the sick with oil and heals by faith. They portray a remarkable, vibrant Christian faith that's alive in every aspect of their life (which is historically consistent with a log of writings by early American Christians). It's a faith that's far different than the tired, cold Christianity that's displayed in too many churches today.

I can't give this book an enthusiastic recommendation. It's interesting for the historical aspects, although it plays fast and loose with the Salem Witch Trials, but it's really bland. It's not a bad read, just kind of mediocre.

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