The Doctor’s Lady is Jody Hedlund’s second title and serves as a pretty good follow-up to her debut novel, The Preacher’s Bride. I enjoyed that novel, which seemed to have a bit more meat on its bones than other Christian Historical Fiction works I’ve read. Hedlund’s hook is that she bases her novels on real women of the past, yet changes the names and some circumstances to allow herself the freedom of full imagination that a fiction author enjoys. While The Preacher’s Bride was a loose retelling of John and Elizabeth Bunyan’s marriage, this book lets Hedlund put her spin on Narcissa Whitman, the first known white woman to cross the Continental Divide after the War for Independence. Since I have a real-life connection with Hedlund*,devoured Bride in a day and have a fixation with stories about medical people I figured that I’d table a lot of my reservations about Christian Historical Romance and dive right in.
Hedlund is a skilled writer and very good at telling a suspenseful story. Unfortunately, I felt that she relied too much on some Christian Historical Romance tropes, and that made this book a bit less enjoyable than the first.
Trope #1: The Most Beautiful Girl In The World
From Francine Rivers’ Redeeming Love to Catherine Marshall’s Christy (sort of) and now again in the Doctor’s Lady, we’ve got a heroine who is supposed to be so beautiful that men will kill for her. I find it especially awkward in Christian Romance, because we’ve got Biblical admonishments about women’s true value coming from their kindheartedness, modesty and industry. One of my favourite hooks in Preacher’s Bride was that Elizabeth, while nice-looking, was not conventionally beautiful. I admired Hedlund’s take on her heroine there and was discouraged to have this book be yet another one of those where so much of the masculine motivation centered on the heroine’s good looks.
Trope #2: Endless Flirting Without Any Risk At All
I sometimes wish Janette Oke had never published Love Comes Softly. Because now the Marriage Of Convenience trope is apparently a genre favourite. And yet again we have two people who are married in name only–the Mission Board won’t send single people to the mission field–who spend the book bickering and flirting their way into the inevitable liplock. I truly dislike seeing married adults have what amounts to a high-schoolers’ style of love affair and I think that a diet of this type of book sets up bad expectations for real women in Christian marriages. Like the secular Twilight Series this book with its focus on unconsummated flirtation plays into women’s emotional erotica and continues the Evangelical culture’s consignment of sex to the back room. Hey, gang, I’ve got news. Married sex is a-ok and even a good thing.
Trope #3 A Very Special Episode
This particular twist sent the book from a 4-star read to 3 stars–instantly. Because there is a key plot twist that hinges on one of the main characters acting ENTIRELY out of character and ENTIRELY contradicting all of that person’s previous actions in the first 80% of the story. All of this happens to allow for a Big Message Scene at the end of the book where we get a little sermonette about pride. And when Christian fiction of any type sacrifices character and story for the opportunity to shoehorn in a bit more of The Message, that’s when I break out the side-eye.
So, all in all, I give the book 3 stars out of 5 and do recommend it for fans of Christian Historical Romance. I would, however, encourage such people to also read The Preacher’s Bride, which is a 4.5 star book and, in my opinion, Hedlund’s better effort.
*[Full Disclosure: I went to college with Hedlund]