Review: The Puritan Bride by Anne O'Brien
I love a good historical romance, so long as it’s not the sort that takes history and tries to add strange new elements. For example, Queen Elizabeth I having a son. That sort of things makes me twitch. This book is good in the sense that it doesn’t rewrite history, or attempt to explain any mysteries away, but it lacks a certain finesse that you would expect from historical romance.
The Puritans, for those who are unfamiliar with the term, were the Reformed Protestants in the 16th and 17thC. They are widely reported to have been a dour and humourless bunch who didn’t do music, dancing, popular fashion, and they certainly didn’t do .... each other, before marriage. The Puritan Bride, Katherine Harley, on the other hand, does engage in premarital sex, and she does so without guilt or concern for the potential complications that accompany sexual relationships in a time when virginity was the most important thing a woman could possess, and securing a marriage was essential.
If you like the sort of book that has sex scenes written into it then this book is great for you, the sex scenes are an entertaining part of the book, great for readers who are after some literary titillation, but be warned, there is an “almost rape” scene. There is also much talk of forced kissing, and Katherine's eventual, helpless submission to said kissing. To be quite honest about that, as a feminist, I find it quite off putting, and very much entrenched in rape culture. Unwanted kissing does not become wanted, no matter how persistent the kisser, and I don’t find it to be a clever plot device for exploring any of the characters involved.
From a feminist perspective the role of inheritance is an interesting one in this book, but I did not find the conclusion to that portion of the story satisfying at all. That is the case with other mini stories within the book as well, for example the mysterious haunting of the Priory, and the hermit like, puritan Aunt who lives on a nearby estate, meddling in forbidden herb lore. The characters are likeable, and the reader will certainly want to know what is to become of them, but may not necessarily be content with the outcome.
For those who want little more than a light hearted read that they don’t need to think about in too much depth, this is an excellent and enjoyable read. For those who really like to sink their teeth into a book, thrash around in it, and emerge feeling as if they have gained something more than mere entertainment, this is probably not the right book. I give this book 1.5 stars out of 5 on my feminist scale of book critique because the female characters are likeable, there is a good number of them, and one does develop a certain affinity for them. There were moments in the book that made the women quite captivating, and others that made me wonder if there has ever been any feminist movement at all between when the book is set and now.
I give this book 3.5 stars on the light reading, non thinking scale because as historical romance goes, it's rather enjoyable and entertaining.
The cover of the book had an eye catching gold stamp on it that proclaimed it to be “Better than Philippa Gregory”. That struck me as a good selling point ….. although I have never read her books, I assumed from the abundance of them she is a crowd pleasing story teller. Unfortunately The Puritan Bride had the feel of being little more than a Mills and Boon book, and feminists are not their target audience. Oops!
Meg Heket is a regular writer at Whole Woman, a feminist website. She is an Australian mother of four who dreams of backpacking the silk road, and reading endlessly, when the children have all grown up and left home.