This book is a treasure. Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers is one of those rare books that absolutely every adult should read. If you haven't read it, do it! Even if you happen to be a guy! Yes, it is a novel, and it is a romance novel, and actually, it's a Christian romance novel, which might make some of you groan and gag, but no matter. You have got to read this book. It is really so much more than a novel. It's an allegory, a retelling of an ancient story, and a revealing glimpse of humanity at its best and worst. It will rip your heart out, break it into pieces, and then very slowly put it back together, whole and new full of hope and promise. All that from one book? Yes. You just have to read it.
Set in the California Gold Rush, the book first introduces Angel, an incredibly beautiful girl with an unspeakably horrible past, a miserable present, and a hopeless future. We then meet Michael Hosea, a godly, wholesome farmer whose peaceful life is interrupted when God tells him to marry a prostitute. The complicated, heartrending, beautiful story of their relationship fills the book. Every character in the book fills an important role: Michael, the forgiving husband who loves his wife no matter what; Angel, the tortured soul who runs from love, refuses hope, and yet longs for peace throughout the story; Paul, the antagonist, who allows his bitterness to wreak destruction in the lives around him; the Altmans, who bring a picture of the "perfect" family in contrast to Michael and Angel's struggle; and even Duke, so great an instrument of the Enemy that sometimes the two are indistinguishable. Yet despite the symbolism and allegory of the story, still the characters seem real, with real emotions, real failures, and real victories. Although I could never imagine the kind of life Angel lived, still I could feel her struggle, her futility, and the belief that everything that had ever happened to her was somehow her fault, that she had been to blame from the moment of her birth. Yet just as real as all that is the steadfast love of her husband, wooing her with a picture of the deeper, greater love that God had in store for her.
Reading this again, years after the first time, I did notice that there are a few lines that are a little cheesy, a couple of cliche's, and a little more sappy sweetness than I had noticed before. It's not flawless writing, but it's still excellent and powerful, and definitely a cut above what you often get with Christian fiction. Also, it is a little more "racy" than Christian fiction usually is, although some writers have gotten a little edgier in recent years. Anyway, I wouldn't recommend it to younger readers, but for older teens and adults, I definitely think it's a must-read!