Brief synopsis: While working on a family friend’s farm in 1880’s Wisconsin, Ben Graham struggles to find self-worth and his way in life. He puts in long hours doing work he does not enjoy, and the only bright spot he sees is his friendship with the farm owner’s daughter, Nadine. When chaos surrounds the household and comes to a boiling point, Ben is sent to retrieve Nadine’s supposedly wayward sister. Margaret, whom the family largely disapproves of, has not only attended college but is now making her way through the Midwest serving and ministering on Indian reservations. Ben’s journey to bring Margaret home dredges up his own questions about family, religion, and the path he ought to take in life.
Broken Chain is book two in the “Mighty Ones” series, and the second book by Julia David that I have read. Similar to the first book in the series, Burgundy Gloves, Broken Chain is an enjoyable Christian historical fiction/romance.
I am thrilled to have the chance to review another book by Julia David. Burgundy Gloves surpassed my expectations and was a wonderful surprise, so I hoped Broken Chain would also.
I am not disappointed!
Mighty Ones depicts historical characters fighting through the same struggles, issues, and existential questions we face today in order to develop strong faith. Don’t be intimidated by that statement, however; the David is a great storyteller who deals with big issues in a relatively subtle manner as an undercurrent to an entertaining story line. Although the plot can be a bit predictable at times, there are still plenty of surprises to keep reluctant readers involved. Set (so far) mostly in Wisconsin in the late 1800’s, the series takes ordinary people and turns them into extraordinary people who the reader can care about deeply, almost like friends. They face numerous difficulties and respond in ways which may not exactly mirror how a Christian would respond today, but shows an appropriate and strengthening response for someone from the time.
Ben Graham is the brother of Levi Graham, one of the protagonists in Burgundy Gloves. When we last saw Ben, he was heading to the Von Keller’s dairy farm for a job. Burgundy Gloves did not reveal much of Ben’s true nature; mostly, he was shown as a typical younger brother: playful and goodhearted but immature. You don’t have to read very far into Broken Chain to realize that he has much more depth and character than that. David expertly creates thoroughly-developed characters and lets the reader see the world through their eyes, without getting bogged down in unnecessary description. Ben, for example, is dynamic in Broken Chain. He is kind but defensive, playful but eager to fight, strong and flirtatious yet desolate and begrudging. He wants to do what is right, but does not believe it is worth trying when he has failed so many times before. He sees good in everyone else, but judges himself harshly. In short, Ben feels nearly every emotion and feeling that a real person does, and is a uniquely crafted combination of responses to the people and situations he encounters. He is beautifully human, flawed yet redeemable.
When Ben leaves the dairy to find and bring home Margaret, he sees it as one last chance to do something right and impress Mr. Von Keller so that he might eventually be seen as worthy of courting Nadine…or anyone of her status. Ben thinks he likes Nadine, but he isn’t really sure at this point. Furthermore, Nadine has secrets of her own, including a beau her parents are not aware of and would not approve of if they did know. However, time on the road affects Ben, as does Margaret when she talks passionately about her convictions and relationship with God. His priorities shift slightly, and by the time he makes it back to the Von Keller dairy, Ben has matured exponentially.
This is a book which I could write essays from and about. The main themes are love, personal identity, and interpretation of Biblical principles. I love that the characters in Broken Chain make me think about my own perception of God, and come away with a stronger understanding of my beliefs and the Bible than before.
Side note: I can’t wait to read the third book of the series, Black Coat, just published in April 2018!
Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.