The Irish Healer – Nancy Herriman

Pretty cover, though it follows the odd partial-beheading trend ... At least she has most of a face...

Sorry about the sudden influx of reviews – I’ve been slacking lately!

I don’t much like extremism in … well, anything that doesn’t involve chocolate. (There can be no moderation in chocolate.) It’s one of the reasons I find the election season so extremely unpleasant, and why even though I am by and large a much bigger fan of animals than of humans I still choose to continue as an omnivore. That’s the thing; even those stances I agree with become distasteful when taken to extremes. (Extremism of various kinds caused all the major fracases on TORn.)

And so it is with books. I steer clear of certain chunks of the mystery genre, like Patricia Cornwell’s books, because they go into great detail about the evil that men do, the thin veneer of civilization that covers horrors. I loathe “modern” or “postmodern” novels – large swathes of what came out of the 50’s, 60’s, 70’s – because they delight in braying about much the same thing. (Lord of the Flies. ) I don’t require sweetness-and-light – I just know a constant diet of the reverse isn’t good for me.

On the opposite end of the spectrum is Christian literature. I was born and raised Catholic, and – well, that’s part of it. New England Catholics are not – in my experience, at least – overt. It is my experience that we are pretty much live-and-let-live. I’m Catholic; you’re not; I won’t preach to you if you don’t preach to me, ‘kay? Good. I’ve led a sheltered life, I suppose, but it still takes me off guard every time I come across Protestant loathing for Catholics, or for another sect of Protestantism … It all strikes me as ludicrous, but everyone has the right to their own beliefs. One thing, though: do not try to proselytize at me. Don’t. Unless I come to you for guidance and specifically ask for instruction, it is very much not welcome. My personal belief system may not be perfect, and it may not be traditional, and it may not be yours – but it’s mine, and as valid as yours: don’t try to change me. It won’t end well.

And that’s my issue with many of the Christian novels I’ve come across. My hope in picking one up is to find something like the other kind of book that was written in the 60’s, or more likely in the 40’s and 50’s: what is often called the “gentle romance”. When all’s said and done, I was raised Catholic, and now and then it’s refreshing and soothing to find a book in which the characters are not, as my mother puts it, hopping in the sack constantly, nor (also as Mom puts it) shacking up. Logically, a Christian novel, a Christian romance, is going to avoid such shenanigans.

And I suppose they do. I don’t know, though, because I don’t know as I’ve ever been able to read one. My one rule, don’t proselytize? They break it. On every page. And moreover they break it in what is usually dreadful prose. I’ve often said that I’ll read just about anything if I enjoy the writer. The reverse is even more true. I don’t buy the brand of Christianity these books sell – I don’t find any authenticity in the characters and the awkward praisings that come out of their mouths.

From Wikimedia Commons

Which is why The Irish Healer was such a pleasant surprise. On Netgalley you may find the smuttiest and kinkiest of smut – and you may also find the most strait-laced of Christian fiction. I request books based on their descriptions, and often forget to check the publisher; sometimes the latter will give a better clue of what I’m in for than the former. This sounded like it was going to be first and foremost a historical, with some romance thrown in (forbidden, at that), along with a quart of cholera and a sprinkle of Ireland. Worth a try. It was only later that I read more thoroughly and discovered that it’s billed as a Christian romance. Oh, I thought, dear.

But no. This was lovely. It is indeed a Christian romance, in that faith is important to the characters and, unmarried, they don’t leap into bed with each other every thirty pages. While physical attraction is very much on their minds there is no call for any of the stunningly lame and stilted language the general run of romance novels resort to to talk about intercourse. All in all I’m very pleased by the writing; Herriman is the sort of writer who gets out of the way of her characters and setting and lets them loose. The story may owe much to 19th century literature like Jane Eyre, and may push the bounds of what was actually possible for a young woman in 1832 England, but it’s all to good purpose. The threats that surround the main character, Rachel Dunne, are made very real, and her strength in the face of all of that makes for someone I’m pleased to read about.

I think the only complaint I could possibly make is that Rachel’s dialogue is just much too erudite, always. She’s 20 years old and has been through hell (if it’s all right to say that), and still even just chatting with the young groom, Joe, she sounds a little like the Professor from Gilligan’s Island. This is not to say I missed the hideous attempts at “Irishness” so often seen – “Shure now, boyo, an’ would I not be after just comin’ from me ould ma’s house, now?” But Rachel is very young, and however well educated and however suppressed her accent has been, just the occasional hint would have been good: a phrase or a dropped G under stress or something of the sort.

This is perhaps three and a half stars, rounded up to four – I’m much more inclined to be generous than I expected to be.

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