I can’t remember if I have mentioned it here, but I am addicted to the printed word. I always have to be reading something. That can lead me in some strange directions, such as Jody Hedlund’s latest novel With You Always.
It is a romance novel. I’m not the target audience, but I approached it without prejudice.
I should start with some background information. In a box somewhere I probably still have a writer’s guideline for Harlequin Romances. Probably about 40 years ago I thought writing a romance novel would be easy so I contacted Harlequin. I decided against it because I didn’t like the contract details. The money wasn’t great, but more importantly the company would have retained the rights to my pen name. (You didn’t think I would put my real name on something like that did you?) That didn’t appeal to me, so I never got further than my preliminary plot ideas revolving around a socialist Canadian politician and a Republican Senator’s daughter.
My point is that while romance is not my favourite genre, I am not unfamiliar with the concepts involved. There’s nothing wrong with writing romances, or reading them.
With You Always is an historical romance, which gave it more appeal to me than something set in 2017 would have had. I know about 2017, I’m not as cognizant of what went on in 1857. I learned things from this novel, which is a bonus as far as I am concerned. At first I was scurrying to my computer every so often to check the historical accuracy of what I was reading, but I stopped about 50 pages in. It was obvious by that point that Hedlund had done her research, and I could just enjoy the story. The novel is the first in what will become the Orphan Train series.
Strip aside the setting and the plot is a familiar one; boy meets girl. Of course the path of true love never runs smoothly; if it did there would be no novel. Here we have rich boy, poor girl, the slums of New York City and the orphan trains.
I had never heard of the orphan trains before. They aren’t a prominent feature of the novel, but they are essential to the plot. In the middle of the 19th century there were trains taking orphans and poor women from New York to start a new life in the American Midwest. With You Always is to be only the first of a series of orphan train novels.
With Bethany House being a Christian publisher it is no surprise that the book contains a Christian message, but it is a subtle one. Some of the characters have an underlying Christian worldview, but there is no in-your-face religion. I appreciated that. (I also appreciated that Abraham Lincoln does not make a cameo appearance. I don’t know how Hedlund showed such restraint with a novel set partially in Illinois when Lincoln was an up and coming politician. I doubt I would have been able to resist the temptation if I was writing the novel.)
Thornton loves Elise, but in order to inherit the family fortune he feels he should marry Rosalind, who would be seen as a more suitable bride. He and his twin brother are vying for leadership of the family business empire, and marriage is one of the boxes that must be checked off. You may sense a Biblical precedent in twins vying for their father’s affection, but this isn’t Jacob and Esau.
Does love conquer pragmatism? It is a romance novel – what do you think? It is the how that makes it entertaining. Is the story well told and believable? For the most part yes.
As someone who doesn’t turn to romances for entertainment, would I be willing to read the next novel in the Orphan Train series? I think so. Given that I learned some new things and thought the story was well told, why wouldn’t I?
“Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.”