Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Book Review: The Prodigal Son by Anna Belfrage


Safely returned from an involuntary stay on a tobacco plantation in Virginia, Matthew Graham finds the Scottish Lowlands torn asunder by religious strife. The government of His Restored Majesty, Charles II, requires all his subjects to swear fealty to him and the Church of England, riding roughshod over any opposition.

In Ayrshire, the people close ranks around their evicted ministers, stubbornly clinging to their Presbyterian faith. But disobedience comes at a price – a very steep price - and as neighbours and friends are driven from hearth and home, Alex becomes increasingly more nervous as to what her Matthew is risking by his continued support of the clandestine ministers – foremost amongst them the charismatic Sandy Peden.

Privately, Alex considers Sandy an enervating fanatic and all this religious fervour is totally incomprehensible to her. So when Matthew repeatedly sets his faith and minister before his own safety and therefore per extension her safety and the safety of their children, he puts their marriage under severe strain.

The situation is further complicated by the presence of Ian, the son Matthew was cruelly duped into disowning several years ago. Now Matthew wants Ian back and Alex isn’t entirely sure this is a good thing, watching from a distance as her husband dances round his lost boy.

Things are brought to a head when Matthew yet again places all their lives in the balance to save his dear friend and preacher from the dragoons that chase him over the moor.   How much is Matthew willing to risk? How much will he ultimately lose? Will she find him in time? And if she does, will she be capable of paying the price required to buy him free?

Matador Publishing | July 1st, 2013 | 392 pages
My Review

4 Stars

The Prodigal Son is the third installment in Anna Belfrage's Alex and Matthew Graham saga.  This novel picks up where the series' second book, Like Chaff in the Wind (click here to read my review), left off, with Matthew returned home to Scotland after having been rescued by Alex from forced indenture in the colony of Virginia.  While happy to be home and in the loving embrace of his growing family, Matthew is determined to defy Charles II's edict that requires strict adherence to the Church of England and the outlawing of the Presbyterian faith and its ministers.  Raised in the Church of Scotland, and believing strongly in its tenets, Matthew is determined to support outlawed Covenanters.  But this support puts Matthew at direct odds with his wife, Alex, who doesn't want Matthew to do anything to risk his own safety or that of their family.  Matthew's choice, therefore, will not be an easy one.  If he chooses to do nothing he will betray his religious convictions, but if he continues to support the Scottish Church he risks losing the people he most cares for. 

Having read and enjoyed the previous two novels in this series, I fully expected to enjoy this one.  I wasn't disappointed.  In fact, given I'm comfortable with the characters and know what to expect from them, I think this series is getting stronger as it progresses.  As Alex is a product of the 21st century, I enjoy how she often butts heads with her husband and other members of her family given her world view has been shaped by modern, and not 17th century, expectations and social mores.   I also like how Belfrage has shaped Matthew's character as his beliefs, even though he has accepted his wife is originally from another, much more liberal century, are consistent with those that would have been held by a 17th century male.  Matthew's conflict with his brother Luke, a theme that runs throughout the series, is clearly evident in this novel even though it isn't as large a part of the narrative as it was in the previous two novels.  The incorporation of religious strife and the struggle to maintain the Church of Scotland in the face of opposition from the King was an interesting and educational aspect of the narrative.  

While the previous two novels in the Alex and Matthew saga have included chapters featuring people left behind from Alex's 21st century life, namely her father Magnus and son Isaac, The Prodigal Son does not.  By the third novel Alex is quite firmly rooted in the 17th century, and her thoughts of her old life have become more limited.  I do wish, however, that more than one line in the novel had referenced Alex's first son Isaac, as no matter how adjusted to 17th century life and her new family she's become I can't believe her heart wouldn't have ached for Isaac from time to time.  My only issue with this novel was that the sex scenes were a little too romance novel-like for my tastes.   

I look forward to finding out what adventures Alex, Matthew and their family experience next. 

Note: I received a copy of this novel from the author in exchange for a fair and honest review.

The Prodigal Son is on tour!  Click here to check out the tour schedule. 

About the Author

I was raised abroad, on a pungent mix of Latin American culture, English history and Swedish traditions. As a result I’m multilingual and most of my reading is historical -  both non-fiction and fiction.

I was always going to be a writer - or a historian, preferably both. Instead I ended up with a degree in Business and Finance, with very little time to spare for my most favourite pursuit. Still, one does as one must, and in between juggling a challenging career I raised my four children on a potent combination of invented stories, historical debates and masses of good food and homemade cakes. They seem to thrive … Nowadays I spend most of my spare time at my writing desk. The children are half grown, the house is at times eerily silent and I slip away into my imaginary world, with my imaginary characters. Every now and then the one and only man in my life pops his head in to ensure I’m still there. I like that – just as I like how he makes me laugh so often I’ll probably live to well over a hundred.

I was always going to be a writer. Now I am - I have achieved my dream.


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