His Stolen Bride
If you are ready for something different – a bit off the beaten track for historical romance – take a look at His Stolen Bride by Judith Stanton. It features both an unusual time period and setting, taking place in the rural North Carolina and Pennsylvania Moravian community in the 1790s. It’s an engaging story with a memorable hero and heroine, and full of the little details of everyday life that make historical romance fun to read.
Nicholas Blum is a very frustrated man. The Elders of his community won’t allow him to marry the woman he has been in love with since childhood, and have sent him off to apprentice with a merchant in another town. There he finds himself under the bossy direction of the merchant’s daughter, Abbigail Till. But soon enough Nicholas realizes that he is fighting a growing attraction to Abbigail. He has a chance with a career as a merchant, as well as with Abbigail, but his hot-headed impulsiveness could destroy both.
Nicholas and Abbigail are both very well-drawn characters with real human flaws, especially Nicholas. He’s one of those people who thinks he is all grown up, and can be rather petulant when people around him don’t believe it, but proves himself less than mature on various occasions. It’s a pleasure to watch him gradually become the man he has the potential to be. Abbigail, too, has some growing to do, out and away from her domineering father. She’s a good match for Nicholas, but it’s Nicholas (and his character’s viewpoint) who got and kept my attention.
However, it’s the setting that really made the book come alive for me. Judith Stanton has done a great deal of research into the Moravian communities of early America, and it shows. The Moravians of the 1790s resemble the modern-day Amish, living in tightly knit communities, speaking German among themselves, wearing distinctive clothing. Unusual for a historical romance, the centrality of religious beliefs and customs is apparent in this book, and the author handles the integration of historical detail and storyline deftly.
A common complaint in historical romance is a tipping of the balance too far in the direction of showing off the historical research, to the detriment of the story. That was not a problem for me here. If anything, I would have liked even more background information. Certain Moravian concepts and terms (casting the Lot for marriage, the Haube head covering that women wear) were mentioned but not really explained. I figured out both through context, but after I finished the book, was curious enough to search the Web for more information. Note that there is an Afterword that explains some of this, and it can be safely read before starting the story; there are no spoilers in it.
This is not a big sweeping book with lots of action and crises. Like the Moravian community itself, His Stolen Bride concentrates on the minutiae of common everyday life, the little dramas that loom large. Parental trust, sibling rivalry, trying to live up to the expectations of community, trying to be worthy of a man or woman who leaves you feeling tongue-tied and vulnerable – Stanton successfully mines these for emotional impact.
There’s also a secondary romance that gets an unusually large amount of time in the spotlight, but it was just right; the characters’ story was not quite enough to carry a whole book on its own, but was not short-changed, either, and nicely complemented the main romance between Nicholas and Abbigail.
I thoroughly enjoyed His Stolen Bride for both the compelling story and the unusual setting. This is Judith Stanton’s second book set in the Moravian community of early America. The first, Wild Indigo, came out last year and features the romance between Nicholas’ father and stepmother. Nicholas has several more siblings, so I look forward to more novels in this series.