21 Jan 2017

Newton and Polly by Jody Hedlund

September 20th 2016, 400 Pages
Print, Audio and Ebook 
Waterbrook Multnomah 
      Amazing grace! How sweet the sound
         that saved a wretch like me.
           I once was lost, but now am found…

Now remembered as the author of the world’s most famous hymn, in the mid-eighteenth century as England and France stand on the brink of war, John Newton is a young sailor wandering aimlessly through life. His only duty is to report to his ship and avoid disgracing his father—until the night he hears Polly Catlett’s enchanting voice, caroling. He’s immediately smitten and determined to win her affection.

An intense connection quickly forms between the two, but John’s reckless spirit and disregard for the Christian life are concerns for the responsible, devout Polly. When an ill-fated stop at a tavern leaves John imprisoned and bound, Polly must choose to either stand by his side or walk out of his life forever. Will she forfeit her future for the man she loves?

Step back through the pages of history, to uncover the true love story behind a song that continues to stir the hearts and ignite the faith of millions around the globe.

This novel was a pleasant surprise, as I have been sorely disappointed by other novels by this author, especially her YA series. It had just amount of Romance blended with adventure, intrigue and historical detail. I was grateful that the Romance was not too overdone or mushy.
The friendly banter between Newton and Polly was quite well written, and she did not spend all her time pining when he was away. Unlike in other books I have read by the same author, there is no over-the-top violence, especially against women. I put that down to the fact that there was not so much of an emphasis on 'action' at the expense of storytelling.

Instead, it was a simple old fashioned good story about the love of two young people over the course of several years apart- a love which ultimately led to the salvation of a dissolute, selfish and bitter young man who went on to become author of the world's favourite hymn. Polly Catlitt did not come over as simpering or needy, even though she was deeply in love. She actually seemed like quite a sensible, practical lass most of the time. I knew a little of John Newton's background, but this really bought it to life in a vivid, imaginative way.

The historical detail was well used and accurate. Immersive without being too distracting, and of course there was a sound salvation message, as it’s about the journey to faith of John Newton (and to some extent Polly), presented realistically and sensitively. That said, his religious doubts did not come over as contrived or patronizing, as they do in some stories written by Christians.

If I had any complaints, I would say they were shortcomings common to many books like this- namely stories set in Britain or featuring British characters written by Americans who have never set foot in the British Isles. Sadly, Mrs Hedlund conflates England and Britain throughout the novel- in fact I don’t think the term Britain was ever used to refer to the entire UK which includes England, Scotland and Wales it was just (wrongly) called ‘England’.
Even in the historical note it’s said the slave trade was abolished ‘in England’- when it was Britain and throughout the British Empire. There were also numerous Americanisms like ‘fall’ instead of ‘Autumn’, and certain minor historical details that were incorrect about the Political system.

As much as I would like to see problems like that fixed, it did not detract from my enjoyment of the story. Recommended.

I requested an electronic copy of this book from the Publisher Waterbrook via Blogging for Books and purchased the audiobook of my own volition. I was not required to write a positive review, and all opinions expressed are my own.

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