I’ve been a fan of Siri Mitchell’s writing since the first book of hers I read, The Cubicle Next Door. It’s rare that a contemporary set story draws me in and makes me connect with the characters as deeply as Siri managed to with Cubicle. So when I learned she wrote historical fiction too, I was thrilled.
The Messenger, her latest historical for Bethany House, now ranks up there with my favorite of Siri’s books.
Hannah Sunderland felt content in her embrace of the Quaker faith… until her twin brother joined the Colonial cause and ended up in jail. She longs to bring some measure of comfort to him in the squalid prison, but her faith forbids it. The Friends believe that they are not to take sides, not to take up arms. She is not allowed to visit him, even if she were able to secure a pass.
Jeremiah Jones, a Colonial spy, needs access to the jail to help men important to the cause. Upon meeting Hannah, a plan begins to develop. Who would suspect a pious Quaker visiting a loved one?
But Jeremiah is unprepared for Hannah, for her determination to do right, to not lie. How can one be a spy and not lie? Hannah, in turn, is surprised by Jeremiah… for the way he forces her to confront her own beliefs, for the sensitivity and concern that he shows her despite the wounds he still carries.
In a time of war, can two unlikely heroes find the courage to act?
Two unlikely heroes–that phrase sums up these two perfectly. In very different ways Hannah and Jeremiah are handicapped for the roles circumstance and conviction have led them to play in aiding the rebel prisoners being held by the British in a Philadelphia jail. But it’s in their weaknesses that God gradually, often despite their own resistance, shows Himself strong–both to see a worthy goal accomplished, and two hearts changed (broken, healed, and strengthened) as they come to trust each other and the God they each long to understand.
The tension Siri created by the overwhelming odds Hannah and Jeremiah face kept me turning those pages, especially in the second half of the book. The storyline and the stakes kept increasing, slowly at first, but toward the second half the stakes became so high I could not put the book down. Not just the physical peril, but the emotional and spiritual questions each struggles with grow deeper and more wrenching, and more costly, as the story unfolds and increasingly difficult choices are demanded.
As most of those who have visited this blog before know, the Revolutionary War is one of my favorite historical eras. The Messenger is set during a relatively brief period during the war (January 1778 thru the rest of the winter and into spring), during the British occupation of Philadelphia, and therefore has room to explore the tensions of that conflict, as well as its excesses and injustices, in fascinating detail.
Lastly, the unlikely romance between a bitter ex-soldier turned barkeep and a Quaker with a ferocious determination to tell the truth–even as she attempts to become a spy–is convincingly and skillfully woven into the narrative, growing out of the circumstances these two are facing, natural and unforced. That’s not to say this thread of the story was any less of a struggle for these two vastly different souls than the threads of physical peril and the challenges to their faith. A threefold cord is not quickly broken. Ecclesiastes 4:12. Siri Mitchell has woven an enduring threefold cord with The Messenger. The spiritual, emotional, and physical journeys of the characters are equally absorbing and ring with truth.
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