Even though lack of period feeling in medieval and regency romances sometimes annoys me, I can understand it. Those times and places are far from our present thoughts. The history is not taught in American high schools. The thought processes are foreign, and historical errors are easily overlooked by the reader unless she is a devotee of that particular period of history.
But a romance based on American history, written by an American is something else again. I know that romance readers are not looking for a lecture in history when they read, but I also know that they understand the values that guided people’s behavior in the past. When a young unmarried heroine in an American historical set before the Civil War can’t understand why her young man won’t kiss her, when she is clothed in nothing but a blanket, I give up. Catherine Archibald, shame on you!
Loving Charity begins with the arrival of handyman Jason Wade at the Applegate’s Pennsylvania farm. It is soon clear to the reader that Jason is not really a farmhand. He’s a Boston lawyer in search of the rapist and murderer of his wife, Daphne. To get close to the killer he is pretending to be a farmhand. As Jason learns to do farm chores he watches for the man whom he wishes to hunt down and kill.
Charity Applegate is one of the three Applegate daughters. Young, beautiful and religious, a Quaker, she is strongly attracted to Jason. Jason returns her feelings but in spite of a few kisses he tells Charity that he will be leaving soon, and that their relationship can go nowhere. Soon, Jason discovers the location of the murderer, a slave catcher who returns runaways to their masters.
When Jason leaves to go after this villain, Charity secretly follows him. Charity’s family is involved with the underground railroad and she wants to save Lizzy, the slave whom the killer has captured, as much as she wants to be united with Jason. Charity knows where the man is going because she knows Lizzy. Surprising Jason on the road, she convinces Jason to allow her to do along with him. Once the trek to find the killer starts, the book becomes a kind of road romance with Jason lusting after Charity and Charity wondering why Jason doesn’t just give in to his feelings.
That’s right, this upright, religious Quaker woman is just dying to move things along with Jason. Of course its not clear that she understands completely what that means, or that a man like Jason might want her without doing the right thing after its all over. Here is what she thinks after poor Jason pulls away from her when she is naked, wrapped only in a blanket.
“There was nothing to say. Jason had made his feelings quite obvious by drawing away from her last night. Nothing could better illustrate the fact that he did not want her.
She could think of no other explanation.”
Couldn’t think of an explanation? How about you’re not married! This is just one of the reasons that I did not believe for a minute that these two were in America just before the Civil War. Author Catherine Archibald spends almost no time establishing the time or setting. These people are living on the eve of the most cataclysmic tragedy to befall the country. One would expect that there would be a lot of talk about slavery, and about what the pacifistic Quakers would do when the war came. The Applegates do talk briefly (very briefly) about their work with the Underground Railroad but they seem to look at the situation as something personal that they are doing for particular slaves like Lizzy. There is no concern on the part of the Applegate family about the Union’s falling to pieces or that they will soon find themselves in the middle of a war.
Now, the Civil War was something that Americans could see coming and they talked about it a lot. Americans were obsessed with the issues – that is why they went to war. Not these Americans. Indeed, even though the setting was Pennsylvania and the South, I kept thinking that I was reading a mundane western romance. At least that would have explained the lack of period feeling.
Neither Jason nor Charity seems to have much of a personality. Charity falls in love with Jason without really knowing him. Jason seems stunned by Charity’s beauty and innocence but he doesn’t really talk with her enough to be in love. She seems very childlike. The secondary characters, Charity’s mother, father and sisters, don’t really come to life. This is probably because no one does or thinks much of anything not directly associated with the romance.
Loving Charity is not the worst book I will read this year. The writing style is passable. Given the subject matter though, Loving Charity is surprisingly lifeless. Readers who don’t care at all about the period feeling of a book, and like the idea of a Quaker woman paired with a man set on violence, might like it. As for me, I’ll pass it up.