So thrilled to have friend and agency-mate Rachel McMillan reviewing one of her fave books today. Rachel always astounds me with her knowledge of the classics–but she’s also very plugged-in to the Christian book market. You can read all her bookish musings here: A Fair Substitute for Heaven.
I’d read the first in the Refiner’s Fire series by Lynn Austin (A Candle in the Darkness)–Civil-War era novels. I loved the way Austin wove in spiritual lessons without being preachy…and you knew she’d done her Civil War research. Can’t wait to share about the next book in the series below. With no further ado, here’s Rachel, with one of her characteristically deep reviews.
Fire by Night by Lynn Austin
Reviewed by Rachel McMillan
|FIRE BY NIGHT–Amazon link|
Fire by Night by Lynn Austin is everything Christian fiction should be. It is underlined by a strong spiritual message; but never wades into the territory of being too blatantly preachy, it establishes Lynn Austin as an author with one of the broadest narrative ranges in the CBA ( Fire by Night, part two of the award-winning Refiner’s Fire trilogy is couched between the North point of view in Candle in the Darkness and the slave point of view in A Light to my Path ) and it reinforces Austin’s talent for playing with her ongoing thesis: women of faith tried and tested by different historical circumstances.
Lynn Austin champions strong women challenged by faith. She never slips into condescension or sentimentality and her heroines ask the tough questions of God. More still, she balances the patriarchal importance of a man’s religious stirrings with the broadly painted belief that God speaks to women too—no matter their secondary role in the gender hierarchies of the setting.
I am consistently challenged by Lynn Austin’s fiction. It inspires me to seek God more, to seek scripture more and to revel in the fact that I am validated — no matter how oddly independent, strong or willful— because God never turns on a broken vessel and God validates women who follow Him no matter their unlikely paths.
Fire by Night straddles between two strong narrative presences: Julia Hoffman, long in romantic pursuit of the reverend Nathaniel Greene, decides to prove her worth by running away and enlisting as a nurse. Here, her faith is tested, her will challenged and her resolve weakened by the presence of the gruff and indomitable Dr. James McGrath and Phoebe Bigelow, who defies convention, disguises herself as a man and enlists with her best friend Ted. The two women’s paths intersect in the most unlikely way as they are face to face with extreme danger and softened and beguiled by the paths to love neither could have dreamed of. All the while, their faiths are tested and strengthened.
One such instance has Julia questioning her burgeoning station away from her heritage and upbringing. Having oft-heard her fiancé Nathaniel’s talk of God’s purpose, she rallies with a truthful cry to the extent of a question: Can’t women hear God’s voice and follow His purpose too? In a male dominated society, entrenched in tradition and war, Julia and Phoebe are caught at the turning of the tide. No longer, argues Austin, will women be content to stay underappreciated in the household, not when circumstance has forced them out to the front and to hone the God-given skills they were made for.
Lynn Austin is unparalleled in accolades—and Christy awards— and Fire by Night is just vintage Austin.
It can be read within the context of the trilogy, or separately. Austin is undeniably at home in the American Civil War years and the setting, descriptions of battle, and nuances of the political infrastructures of the time are well-painted here.
I should also mention, in a far more superficial vein, that Lynn Austin is champion at writing the most supremely dishy kisses and the most appealing heroes. James McGrath remains one of my favourite romantic interests in Christian fiction. He is strong, sardonic, intelligent and more than a little rough around the edges. Think a Neil MacNeill of the Civil War.
Rachel McMillan is a long time Christian fiction addict. She has judged the Christy awards and the INSPYs awards and is a frequent contributor to Breakpoint and Novel Crossing. She has been featured on BlogHer and Breathecast. Her blog, A Fair Substitute for Heaven, is popular with book lovers and publishers alike. Her historical fiction is represented by William K. Jensen Agency. Rachel lives in Toronto and spends a lot of time watching baseball.
****Thank you so much for the excellent review, Rachel! Have any of you read Lynn Austin? If so, which is your fave of her novels?****