I am not religious, so my review of this inspirational romance will be coming from the perspective of a secular reader. Our theme read in the Unapologetic Romance Readers group for the month of May was "christian romance," and REDEEMING LOVE was actually my nomination. Francine Rivers is a name that gets bandied around a lot, not just in the christian fiction groups, but also in the historical romance groups in general. I was curious to see what she was like. As soon as I began reading this book, I literally had two people message me to inform me that this book allegedly takes two forms: the 1991 version and the 1997 version. I apparently have the 1997 version, which was edited to remove swear words and explicit love scenes to make it religion-friendly, which is definitely the case in my version. All sex scenes are very much fade-to-black, or in the case of one scene, ends with the hero and heroine soaring towards heaven - metaphorically, I'd imagine. Unless I somehow picked up a paranromal romance book without actually catching on.
Sarah/Amanda/Mara/Tirzah/Angel is a prostitute who was sold into the profession against her will as a child and then raped. Over the years she has become bitter and cold; it's her only defense against her growing despair at sleeping with men she doesn't like in a prison gilded by the gold dust of the Californian mining town she's settled in. On one of her walks, Michael Hosea sees Angel and hears God tell him that this is the woman he is destined to marry. When he finds out what she is, he throws a mini-hissy before pulling up his britches and delivering Angel the news. She is not amused, and rebuffs him multiple times. When he marries her, she's actually unconscious from a beating.
Much of the book is Angel learning to deal with her guilt and self-hatred. Her bitterness is exceptionally well done, and the pain she feels is warranted. The epilogue of this book is straight out of a bodice ripper, and the more I found out about her backstory - neglect, abuse, rape, assault, incest, probably PTSD - the more I sympathized with her. No matter how frustrated I felt with her as a character, I always felt that her actions were in line with her character. It takes a long time before she's able to trust Michael, and when she does, it happens in stages. She trusts him with her body and her well-being long before she's willing to let him have her heart.
This story is apparently a retelling of a bible story about two people named Gomer and Hosea. I have not read the original story, so I'm not sure how accurate or true the retelling is. I will say that the story manages to stand on its own fairly well and I was engaged for the majority of the book. It was in the last quarter where I feel it begins to fail a bit, as God appears to drive Angel away from Michael because she views Michael as a god instead of Him...and he drives her right back to the man who raped and abused her, which seemed...cruel? Then one of Angel's friends tells her that she has a prayer box to remind her not to be self-sufficient, but to rely on God instead, and that whenever there's something she wants to do something about she just writes a note and puts it in the box...right. I didn't mind the way God's voice was written in this book, however, and I thought it was clever how what I assume was the devil took the voice of Angel's abuser. What better way to turn her away from the path of self-betterment than to take the voice of the man who made her feel as if she were beyond redemption in the first place? I also thought that the way the religion was written in this book is probably suitable for the time period in which it was written (1850-ish), because most people in the 19th century were religious, and it formed the backbone of their social circles in many cases.
Honestly, my two biggest pet peeves were that epilogue and the fact that Paul got an HEA. The epilogue annoyed me because I felt like it wasn't realistic. I get that it was intended to be a miracle, but I really did not like it. I also really did not like Paul. He ill-treats her for 95% of the book, and then at the end of the book she apologizes to him. Ooh, I saw red when that happened. I kept thinking to myself, "If this were a bodice ripper, Paul would be killed in a stampede of cows, or in a cave-in while trying to steal someone else's gold." But this was not a bodice ripper, so Paul accepts Angel's apology, condescends to give one of his own, and gets his stinking HEA (the bastard).
In spite of its flaws, REDEEMING LOVE is a good book, and I think secular readers will be able to enjoy it too (probably more so if they can find copies of that elusive 1991 edition). I'm very glad I finally got around to reading a Francine Rivers book. She is a good writer, with a sense of characterization and pacing, and absolutely beautiful descriptions of nature. Yes, religion is a definite focal point in this book but not to the point where it's utterly preachy, either. 4/10, would read more by this author later. Her Mark of the Lion series looks especially interesting, and I'm hoping I'll be able to get a copy of that on the cheap. I love Ancient Rome.
3 out of 5 stars