Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Review: Love's Reckoning by Laura Frantz

Love's Reckoning (The Ballantyne Legacy #1)
By: Laura Frantz
Publisher: Revell
ISBN: 978-0-8007-2041-4


Eden Lee longs to make a fresh start in Philadelphia, to escape her father Liege's temper and her sister Elspeth's selfish machinations. Her fiery hair and family reputation mask a quiet spirit that hungers after God, desiring nothing more than the freedom to exercise her fledgling faith freely. But before she can make good on her dream of escape, her blacksmith father's new apprentice arrives, setting into motion plans of marriage and familial expectations that threaten to derail Eden's closely guarded dreams.

Silas Ballantyne has plans of his own to head west once his apprenticeship is finished, dreams he is determined shall not be thwarted by his contentious master or his tempting daughters. However, Silas finds himself irresistibly drawn to Eden's sweet spirit in defiance of Liege and Elspeth's determination to ensnare the talented blacksmith in a web of deceit. As love blossoms between Silas and Eden, fostered by whispered stairwell meetings and exchanged scraps of scripture, the long-latent embers of jealousy between Liege's daughters ignite. When all they hold dear is threatened, Silas and Eden are forced to decide if their faith and love is enough to withstand the heartache that would see their hoped-for future destroyed,

It has been far too long since I've lost myself within the pages of a Laura Frantz novel. Reading Love's Reckoning was akin to water falling on dry land, a balm to my soul sorely in need of Frantz's craftsmanship and heart. The first installment in a multi-generational family epic, Love's Reckoning is replete with Frantz's trademarks: carefully-crafted characters, a heart-rending love story, and a nearly tactile sense of time and a nearly tactile sense of time and place. Within these pages, late 18th-century Pennsylvania springs to life with color and depth. If a novel is her canvas, Frantz paints with the skill of a master.

Here Frantz blends shades of the Cinderella story with a familial and romance dynamic reminiscent of the biblical saga of Jacob, Esau, Rachel, and Laban. Eden is a classic Cinderella figure, the family drudge who still maintains her sweet spirit. In less capable hands, seeing the abuse she endures at the hands of family members could have made her seem weak. But instead, Eden is an intricately wrought portrait of one who chooses again and again the sacrifice of kindness and belief with no expectation of reward (much like the recent live-action version of Cinderella). 

While Silas is cast in the role of prince/redeemer, both he and Eden's character arcs are colored with shades of Jacob's story (with Elspeth cast alternately as Esau and Leah, in the most extreme forms of that character archetype). Their journey is a fight for an inheritance beyond what the eye can see -- a twin legacy of earthly and spiritual favor. Theirs is a story of lives the enemy to all believers would see destroyed (John 10:10), of potential unrealized and dreams unfulfilled. But in the pain of circumstance, those dreams, once surrendered and yielded to the God who first planted them within their hearts, blossom into a gorgeously wrought illustration of redemptive promise (Joel 2:25).

For those who crave realism in inspirational fiction or wonder if it even exists, they need look no further than here for one such example. While Love's Reckoning is everything I crave in historical romance -- research, depth, passion -- within these pages lies a tale of emotional abuse, a physical assault, and shattered dreams. Frantz never exploits the very real heartache her characters endure, but within the framework of their circumstances sketch a story of hope and redemption with compassion and sensitivity. 

Authors like Frantz are why I believe so strongly in the possibility of inspirational fiction. This is a wildly entertaining tale, yes, epic in its scope and intimate in its emotional reckoning, a sweeping saga in every sense that term implies. But more than that, Silas and Eden's story is one of hope and a faith at times no bigger than a grain of mustard seed, and the ability of that faith in action to transform and redeem the most broken among us.

About the book:

On a bitter December day in 1784, Silas Ballantyne arrives at the door of blacksmith Liege Lee in York County, Pennsylvania. Silas is determined to finish his apprenticeship quickly and move west. But because he is a fast worker and a superb craftsman, Liege endeavors to keep in in Lancaster by appealing to an old tradition: the apprentice shall marry one of his master's beautiful daughters.

Eden is as gentle and fresh as Elspeth is high-spirited and cunning. But are they truly who they appear to be? In a house laced with secrets, each sister seeks to secure her future. Which one will claim Silas's heart -- and will he agree to Liege's arrangement?

In this sweeping family saga, one man's choices in love and work, in friends and enemies, set the stage for generations to come, This is the Ballantyne Legacy.

Note to blog readers: I in no way, shape, or form expected to be posting a book review TWO DAYS after declaring a blog hiatus, but I finished this book and literally couldn't help myself. No promises going forward, but we'll see how things go. ;-)

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