Where Heaven Begins
Roseanne Bittner has written many action-filled historical romances set in the American West with vivid settings and memorable characters that often reflect the author’s personal faith. Having read several of her historicals, I eagerly anticipated her first inspirational romance. But, while Where Heaven Begins is basically a good story, it is an uneven one, and one that didn’t grab me as some of her novels have in the past.
The book opens dramatically as Elizabeth Breckenridge is accused by her church of attempting to seduce the pastor while staying in his home. Orphaned and alone, Elizabeth had in fact been propositioned by the man and rebuffed him. After being cast out by her church, Elizabeth’s faith remains intact and she decides to embark on an arduous journey to the Yukon where her brother has set up a mission church.
Elizabeth takes what little money she has and books passage on the ship that will take her north, a journey that is undeniably dangerous for a woman traveling alone. She is reminded time and time again that women traveling alone to the Yukon are presumed to be prostitutes and will be treated as such. At the beginning of the trip, Elizabeth catches the eye of Clint Brady, a bounty hunter headed for the same destination.
Clint is aghast at the notion of a sheltered woman such as Elizabeth traveling alone, and he attempts to watch out for her and warn her away from continuing on her trip. As he is convinced that God has abandoned him, Elizabeth’s solid faith seems to infuriate Clint whenever they speak to one another. However, as he rescues Elizabeth from drowning and other perils and gets to know her better, Clint finds himself attracted to this quietly determined woman. Elizabeth, for her part, also finds Clint attractive, but refuses to give into her feelings because of his lack of faith.
One thing that Bittner does an excellent job with here is the setting. Her description of the trip from San Francisco to the small gold-mining town of Dawson is very evocative. The book is far more than dry descriptions of the scenery and the route – the reader travels alongside the characters and feels the hardships of the voyage and the harshness of their surroundings.
In addition, Bittner’s story is a very tender one. Watching Clint and Elizabeth find one another is very touching, as is seeing how they grow along their journey. At the opening of the book, Clint is quite harsh, but he changes as he travels with Elizabeth, who also grows up quite a bit on this journey.
The major weakness for me lies in the way that Christianity is portrayed. For me, the best inspirational novels show faith in action or they make one think about some aspect of faith based on what happens to the characters. While I liked the Biblical quotes used by Bittner in her chapter headings, the story just did not have a lot of power for me. Rather than seeing Elizabeth live her faith and how her beliefs change others, much of the book consists of preaching, done primarily through Elizabeth’s mouth. This made it feel as though the book talked down rather than reaching out to me, and, therefore, it was hard to connect to the story. In addition, Elizabeth’s manner of preaching frequently broke up the dialogue and made the message intrusive rather than a fully integrated part of the book.
When writing inspirational novels, it is no doubt difficult to blend the action of the story with the religious message the author is trying to convey and, in this case, the mixture is not as seamless as it could be. The remarkable settings and exciting plotlines that mark Bittner’s earlier work are still present here, but the inspirational message is preached rather than blended into the fabric of the characters’ lives and conversation. However, Bittner is a talented author and, with practice, her inspirational works might show promise for the future.