The Preacher’s Bride

I don’t normally read Christian fiction or historical romance, but I do read a lot of blogs about writing, so when I found out that one of my favorite writing bloggers had published a book I decided to read it.

The Preacher’s Bride is a fictional retelling of John Bunyan (the author of Pilgrim’s Progress) and his second wife, set against the conflicts in England at the end of Cromwell’s rule and beginning of the restoration of the monarchy.  I thought it was a good story and enjoyed the way Jody Hedlund brought life and emotion to her characters.

I emailed Jody to ask why she changed John Bunyan’s name in her book, since I’ve read a lot of historical fiction that makes free with details but still uses the names of historical figures.  She replied (it’s so gracious of an author to reply to a nobody, I really appreciated that!) that her publisher requested the change thinking it would be harder to market the book as a historical autobiography of sorts and would be easier to market it as a romance.

I thought that was odd, but probably indicative of the genre.  The fact is, I think this book could have been tweaked a little and published as a secular historical fiction just as easily as being tweaked to be a Christian historical romance.  I read recently that so much of Christian fiction is the historical “bonnet” variety because it’s easier to keep it clean, and that’s a requirement for Christian fiction, obviously.  I would argue that a lot of the conventions of “romance” novels are designed to get the blood pumping even if they don’t go into lascivious detail, and if you are trying to avoid the blood pumping thing you’re probably better off reading secular fiction than Christian romance.  But that’s just me.

Because I’m not a romance fan, I found myself wishing for the story to be more of a historical fiction – which is to say, more emphasis on the details and history and life at that point of history.  In secular historical fiction that sort of detail is woven in to the larger story of character crises and falling in love and whatnot.  The Preacher’s Bride does include some historical detail, but I kept wondering things like what did the streets look like?  Where there rushes on the floors inside and was that just unbearably nasty?  I guess what I was missing was the richer feeling of really being present in that time period and understanding the character’s motivations through the lens of their era.  My guess is that length and space concerns prohibited Jody from using all of her research, because I read on her blog about how much research she does on time periods before writing.  The overall impression I got was that she could have gone into more detail but didn’t.  A richer setting would be my preference, but the story itself doesn’t suffer from the setting as it is.

The reason I don’t normally read Christian fiction, in spite of being a Christian myself, is that I think sometimes Christian fiction is fluffy and not literary.  One difference, for example, is how explicit Christian themes and statements can be in Christian fiction, whereas in literary fiction those themes are more deeply woven in to the narrative.  The advantage of the Christian fiction up front approach is that no one wonders what the author means.  The advantage to the literary model is that it gives people something to think about and ponder even if they are not Christians, with the potential for reaching a different audience and changing the ways people think and understand the world.

I enjoyed reading The Preacher’s Bride and even gave it to my grandmother for Christmas (she enjoyed it too).  I don’t mean my post as a criticism against Jody for choosing the genres she did, but since reading her book got me started thinking about the differences in genres I added that to my review.  I would recommend her book and, if you write or would like to write, I’d also recommend her blog.

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.

5 thoughts on “The Preacher’s Bride

  1. I read a lot of Christian fiction, but I try to be selective about it. Like you, I don’t like “fluffy” Christian fiction with overused story lines or spell-everything-out-for-you Christian jargon. Christian publishers ARE starting to branch out and relax their formerly-rigid standards on what does or does not belong in a “Christian” novel. So check back with the genre in 10-15 years, and maybe you’ll find it more to your liking. 🙂

    That being said, you might like the Millwood Hollow series by Patricia Hickman or one of Christa Parrish’s novels–I think she’s only written two–Home Another Way and Watch Over Me. Also, you might try one of Francine Rivers’ contemporary-setting novels, such as Her Mother’s Hope and the continuation, Her Daughter’s Dream, or The Atonement Child.

  2. Catherine, I’m really glad you recommended this. This is definitely a genre that I avoid (almost at all costs) at this phase in my life. In high school and college, that was a lot of what I read, but I think I am more aware of my purpose in life and have more meaty reading to do that will help me in my various roles (wife, mother, Christian, homeschooler, etc.). All that to say, my mother-in-law recommended this to me early in January. I hated to “quench her zeal”. She was so excited that she thought I would just really relate to the woman in the story (homeschooling mother of 5, Christian). She did understand if I didn’t have the time or the inclination to read it though. Since you reviewed it, it didn’t sound quite as “fluffy” as others of the genre can be, so I may take a look at it. It would make her very happy, I’m sure. 🙂

  3. I love reading all your book reviews and have a lengthening list I need to get around to reading soon!

    Someone told me once that the reason Christian authors will never be as good as secular authors, is because Christian writers write only the good, clean side of their stories, and their good comes across fluffy because it’s not contrasted with a realistic bad. Secular authors, however, usually have much more depth to both their good and bad characters, plots, etc.

    I tend to agree that Christian authors release so much fluff because of their refusal to write about really bad things. If I were to ever write a novel (which I would love to do!) it would probably not fall into a Christian genre, regardless of the Christian principals or lifestyles it may convey to it’s reader.

    I’m looking forward to reading your novel someday!

  4. I agree with your assessment of Christian fiction. I feel frustrated when an author feels that they must spend such an extensive amount of their time expressing their religious position rather than diving into a really good story and allowing the story to shine through the message in a more natural, thought-provoking manner. Having said that, it is really a shame that the Christian fiction genre doesn’t have more authors whose writing can stand on two feet without resorting to fluff.

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