I’ve been a Jody Hedlund fan for some time now, and I was thrilled to receive a copy of her newest book The Runaway Bride to read and review before its release. This is the second book in her Bride Ships series. You can click here to read my review of the first book, A Reluctant Bride.
England in the 1860s was not a good place to find a husband. By the early part of the decade, there were about 600,000 more women than men living in the country. And when employment options are limited, especially for women of noble birth, and marriageable men are hard to come by a 25-year-old spinster doesn’t have many options. Especially when her stepmother wants her out of the house. That’s the situation Arabella Lawrence finds herself in when she agrees to marry her father’s employer. The man is old enough to be her grandfather, and he turns out to be anything but gentlemanly.
Fleeing what would certainly be an abusive marriage, she takes passage in one of the Columbia Mission Society’s bride ships bound for Vancouver Island and British Columbia, where men outnumber women approximately 10 to 1. Their need for respectable, Christian wives is Arabella’s chance at a new beginning. Upon arriving, she instantly attracts suitors with her compassion, charm, and fiery red hair. The most persistent are two very different men — Lieutenant Richard Drummond, a gentleman and naval officer, and Peter Kelly, the local baker.
Sparks of affection flare, but not with the more suitable Drummond. It’s the working-class baker to whom Arabella turns for friendship and also for help when she discovers a starving native girl in need of care. Drummond’s not giving up easily, though, and Arabella is caught in the middle of his ongoing clash with Peter that began over the treatment of native people and now involves her. As she navigates these two relationships and struggles with her fears, Arabella also realizes that for the first time in her life she has the opportunity to choose a full, happy life. But only if she can find the courage to step out of her society-prescribed role as a noble lady.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Arabella was my favorite secondary character from A Reluctant Bride, and I was so excited to learn more about her in this new story. Her anxieties and fears, and the mistakes she makes because of them, make her a relatable and sympathetic character. I loved seeing her struggle with her past and find healing with the Lord’s help and the support of her friends. It’s not all that common to see characters make mistakes, apologize for them, and grow so much during the course of a story and it makes Arabella feel real. I admire her quite a bit.
It took me a little longer to warm up to Peter Kelly. Everyone in the story keeps talking about how irresistibly charming he is, but that relentless charm put me on edge a bit at first. He was so overconfident and froward that I felt a bit shocked (might not have been in a modern romance, but this is set not 50 years after Jane Austen). He eventually won me over, though, as I realized he’s sincere and respectful. He might talk about how he’s sure Arabella’s going to marry him, but he certainly has no intention of forcing or manipulating her into that relationship.
That’s more than we can say from either of the other men who sought Arabella’s hand. The violence she faced back in England was a bit more than I expected from a Christian historical romance, though not to the point that I felt it was inappropriate to include. It’s important that we don’t shy away from difficult topics like domestic violence and abuse and instead shine the Lord’s light into these issues. I thought Jody handled the pain in Arabella’s past very well.
I recommend this book, along with A Reluctant Bride, to anyone who likes sweet historical romances. I do want to note for any readers who want their romance to stop at one chaste kiss, Arabella and Peter’s relationship has a higher “heat level” than some other inspirational fiction. Nothing I would call scandalous or inappropriate in Christian fiction — God included the Song of Solomon in scripture, after all, and this is less erotic than that — but I thought I’d mention it just so you can make an informed reading decision.
The Runaway Bride was released today. You can click the links below to order it and to learn more about Jody Hedlund’s work. My thanks to Bethany House publishing, Jody Hedlund, and NetGalley for an ARC of this novel in exchange for an honest review.
- The Runaway Bride purchase link(please note that this is an affiliate links, which means that at no additional cost to you, I’ll receive a small commission if you click on the link and make a purchase)
- Jody Hedlund’s website
- My Goodreads review