A Reluctant Bride (The Bride Ships)

Written by Jody Hedlund
Review by Waheed Rabbani

1862 London: young Mercy, a resident of the slums, rushes into a dispensary carrying a baby. Since the regular doctor is away, she is seen by the doctor filling in, Lord Joseph Colville. Upon learning that the child is not Mercy’s, and she regularly brings in others’ sick babies, he is impressed by Mercy’s kindheartedness. To ease his sorrow upon the deaths of his parents, Joseph has served as a surgeon on ships sailing to India and China. Not wanting to settle down yet, he accepts another appointment as surgeon on the Tynemouth sailing from England to British Columbia. Sixty young brides-to-be are also on board, in response to the need for wives for young men who’d arrived during the gold rush. Mercy, desperately wishing for a better future, also books passage on the Tynemouth. When sickness breaks out on board, Mercy is happy to assist Joseph, which brings them closer and begins a forbidden romance. However, in observance of the strict rules of the class-based Victorian society, others want them kept apart.

While the saga of the “Fishing Fleets” to India is well known, Jody Hedlund has incorporated the little-known chronicle of the bridal ships that took young British women to British Columbia. She takes her time in developing the romance between a nobleman surgeon and a lower-class slum dweller. While some may consider this improbable, Hedlund, as stated in her author’s note, has based the plot on a true story. The Christian faith elements are introduced seamlessly into the narrative, along with the class prejudices of that era. London’s slum life is lucidly imagined, and the descriptions of the confined life, sickness, and weather on a lengthy sea voyage are vividly recounted. Readers will look forward to the second book in the series.