By Ann Gabhart
Revell, a division of Baker
The Blessed adds to the author’s collection of novels dealing heavily with a Shaker theme. This is the first novel I’ve read by Gabhart, and the first that features Shaker characters.
I appreciated the author’s brief history of the society before reading the book. The Blessed takes place in the mid nineteenth century in a small rural community at the home of the local Baptist preacher and his ailing wife. As a teenager, Lacey Bishop was sent to be the hired girl for Miss Mona. During this time, a newborn baby is left on the preacher’s doorstep, taken in and raised by Miss Mona and Lacey. When Miss Mona passes on, Lacey is forced into a marriage of convenience on her part, but not the pastor’s, in order to maintain propriety and stay in the preacher’s house and continue to care for the growing child. After a visit from two gentlemen from the nearby Shaker community who come proselytizing, the pastor leaves his church and moves his household to join with the Shakers. Once there, Lacey is oddly attracted to a young man, Brother Isaac. But Isaac is another refugee from the outside world, who has been in mourning and rejected after the death of his wife, a prominent judge’s daughter. Isaac was befriended by a Shaker brother who’d come to town on business, and decided to accompany the brother to his home, where he eventually meets Lacey.
The style of writing is introspective, mournful, dour, yet ribboned with snatches of joy and hope as Lacey attempts to keep memories of her happy childhood alive for her young charge. Brother Amos, the man who befriends Isaac, is a delight. But in all honesty, Isaac’s story of guilt and widowhood was a tough start to the book, and I was confused about the preacher’s household setup. The marriage of convenience took place so early in the book that I wondered what would happen to free Lacey even while she met her true love interest. Life in the Shaker community reminded me a lot of other nonfiction books I’ve read about closed societies. People are people no matter how they worship or how they live, and this early Shaker society held little attraction for me.
Gabhart’s fans will surely enjoy this story as an addition to the collection. The story doesn’t exactly fit in the “romance” category, category, however, so if you expect any sparks to fly or relationship ups and downs between the protagonists throughout the book, you won’t find that with The Blessed.