Wild Indigo

 
His Stolen Bride by Judith Stanton
(Harper, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-06-109787-X
****
For me, the remarkable hero of Judith Stanton's His Stolen Bride is the most interesting element in a highly readable book, with its setting…the Moravian community of 1796…running a strong second.

Nicholas Blum is described by his father as "a brilliant, bold, impulsive man who does not always count the cost of acting on his convictions." He is also, at age 28, a man who failed at all four of his apprenticeships before ending up as the only tinsmith in the Moravian settlement of Salem, North Carolina. The community has decided he should have another chance at success, so his father secures him a position working for a shopkeeper in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, 300 miles north of Salem.

Arriving in Bethlehem, Nicholas finds Georg Till and his assistant, Christian Huber, away from the shop, on a buying trip to Philadelphia. Brother Till has left the shop in his daughter's charge, and so it is Abbigail Till, a "clever, bossy little wren," who introduces Nicholas to his duties as a shopkeeper's assistant.

Abbigail, three years older than Nicholas, is a confirmed spinster who nevertheless finds herself attracted to Nicholas' practiced charm. Nicholas, in turn, finds himself trying to protect her from her gouty father's irritable carping and from Brother Huber's sly insinuations. More and more, Abbigail supplants Catherina Baumgarten, the girl he left behind, in his thoughts and fantasies.

When he left Salem, Nicholas considered himself unofficially betrothed to Catherina even though courtship, or even flirting, was forbidden by the Moravian Brotherhood. The Elders arranged all marriages, and Nicholas had already asked to be allowed to marry and had been turned down. He knows, however, that Catherina views his suit far more favorably than did the Elders. When he learns that Catherina has been betrothed to his brother, Matthias, his actions precipitate a crisis that affects his family, Catherina, Abbigail, her father, and Brother Huber.

Nicholas is an archetypal example of a square peg in a round hole. In a community that values conformity and restraint, he is charismatic, intelligent, and impetuous, quick to act, slower to think. Deeply religious, he chafes at the restraints his society places on him but is unable to consider life outside the community.

Many of the historical romances I read convey remarkably little of the flavor of the times in which they take place. The protagonists are frequently 20th century actors dressed in period costumes but retaining most of the attitudes and convictions current in the 1990's. In His Stolen Bride, Stanton does an exceptional job of portraying the effect of their religious principles on the individuals living in this 18th century community. Their place and their times shape the conflicts that challenge Abbigail, Nicholas, Catharina, and Matthias.

Although, I found some of Stanton's secondary characters overly simplified…the good guys too honorable and the bad guys too disagreeable…and the writing occasionally awkward, these minor defects were outweighed by all the positive attributes of this book. If you like an unusual setting, handled expertly, and imperfect but likeable protagonists, I can recommend His Stolen Bride.

--Nancy J. Silberstein


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