The Advent Bride
The Advent Bride, first of The Twelve Brides of Christmas novellas, appears meant to be heartwarming story of a schoolteacher reaching a difficult student and also finding love during the Christmas season. However, it all felt just a bit too flat for me to truly enjoy it.
An orphan without many choices in life, Melanie Douglas has come to Nebraska to teach school and hopefully build a life for herself. From the beginning of the story, readers can tell that she hasn’t had a chance to do much in that whole “building a life” department. As was customary at the time, Melanie boards with someone in the community. But, oh, what a someone. Poor Melanie gets stuck with widowed Mrs. Rathbone, one of the few in town with money and a sizable home. Unfortunately for Melanie, she is also possessed of a vicious nature, and constantly belittles and threatens Melanie as well as expecting her to basically act as a maid during her off hours.
And then there’s the school. At school, Melanie instantly notices Simon O’Keefe, a motherless boy who has a gift for disrupting the entire class. Melanie has compassion for the boy, and tries to reach out to him. Since Simon’s father, Henry, is the town sheriff and frequently working long after school hours, Melanie has ample opportunity to spend time with Simon since he gets left at school long after dismissal.
One thing I will say for this story: All of these tales of woe don’t get wrapped up into an overly perfect saccharine-sweet ending. Sometimes the unpleasant things and people stay unpleasant; characters just get ways to deal with them. However, even with that bit of realism, the story still felt flat, particularly when read as a romance. So much of the story centers on the travails and Melanie and Mrs. Rathbone, and the ways Melanie finds to get through to her student Simon that little time is left for romance.
Without spoiling things too much, I’ll say that I found the device by which Melanie finally engages Simon’s interest and helps him develop his gifts makes for a sweet story. However, for much of it, I found myself more concerned about Henry’s relationship with his son rather than his relationship with Melanie. This may be because the romance gets relatively little play in the story and just feels tacked on a bit.
And then there’s Melanie herself. Given the era and her financial circumstances, I understood her powerlessness. To an extent, she has little choice but to accept the bullying of her landlady and the societal expectations placed on her as a teacher. However, she can at times come across as so meek and so completely self-sacrificing that she seemed more like a serene martyr figure (or doormat) than a fully realized character.
The publisher’s idea of releasing a new romance novella every Monday for the twelve weeks leading up to Christmas is a good one, but this particular tale is mighty darn average. Since The Twelve Brides of Christmas aren’t interconnected, I may check out some of the other authors’ stories, but I can’t push this one.