Time travel, religious persecution, murder, and fraternal hatred make for an irresistible mix in this novel.
The Prodigal Son is the third book by Anna Belfrage in her Graham Saga but it easily stands alone. The author refers briefly to previous key incidents in the series bringing new readers up to speed without dragging them into the past. I haven’t read the previous books.
Back in 2002, Alex time-travelled into the second half of the seventeenth century. In this story, seven years later, she is now married with three children and living in Scotland. Her husband Matthew divorced his former wife for adultery with his brother, and both brothers regard the son of that previous marriage as theirs.
The son is one source of tension between Alex and her husband Matthew, but the greater problem is Matthew’s insistence on aiding outlawed Presbyterian ministers and attending forbidden services on Sundays in secret venues.
Alex fears for her husband’s life and the impact on her children if he is caught for his crimes, the most likely penalty being his death and the rest of the family being sold into slavery in America. Matthew is torn between his love for his wife and family, and his total faith in his religion and his desire to help his religious brethren and to offer food and shelter to ministers on the run from the law.
The tension and the strain on the family is palpable, and added to Alex’s stress, is the problem that being an emancipated 21st century woman, she isn’t ideally cast in the role of a subjugated 17th century wife. It’s easy to empathise with Alex, and in her, the author has created a vivid character, strong, principled, independent, yet, loving her new life because of her husband and family.
Matthew is equally strong, but his upbringing and principles are very different to those of his wife, and yet, he kills for her and for his religion.
It’s a complex and interesting novel with a finely-tuned plot and credible characters. There are some sad and emotive moments which avoid falling into sentimentality. The story ends plausibly, but with a question in the air of possible change for the next book in the series (extract included afterwards).
The moral and ethical dilemmas are fascinating. The story gives a good insight into religious fervour and how far men will take it. Do you turn your back on political lawbreakers? Or do you risk your life and that of your family to help them? No easy answers.
I don’t usually choose historical fiction but I thought this book sounded interesting, so I would recommend it, not just to those who normally read historical novels but, to anyone who wants a good read. The author adds a useful historical note at the end, setting the events in context.
It gets a deserved four stars based on the interesting plot, strong characters, the pacing of the story, and the overall professional finish.
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