Tuesday, February 2, 2016
Grace Triumphant, by Alicia Willis
This January, I got to read Grace Triumphant. It's a time period (the slave trade and Wilberforce) that I have always deeply loved, so I couldn't wait to see if the inside was as beautiful as the outside.
The Book (From Goodreads)
Profligate London, 1788. Slave ships haunt the seas, bearing human cargos to further the wealth of the rich and destroy the souls of the slave traffickers.
Russell Lawrence is an avid skeptic. Captain of the slave ship Barbados, wealthy, and a respected leader, he views religion as a crutch for the weak. But when the debauchery of the slave trade begins to destroy his good morals, his battle becomes more than fighting pirates and mutineers. What if there really is a God?
Impressed as a cabin boy, Jack Dunbar sees his forced service on the Barbados as a God-given opportunity to witness Christ to the crew. But his efforts to influence the hardened slavers seems to be doing little good. How is it possible to live as a Christian on the sin-ravaged seas? Can his light shine bright in Africa's dark interior?
Back in Grosvenor Square, Elizabeth Grey battles opposition from society and her self-seeking fiancé. Her work with John Newton to end the slave trade is being harshly attacked. She faces life branded as a jilter and radical if she stands up for what she believes in. Will she ever glean the strength to call sin by its rightful name?
A tale of adventure on the high seas, redemption, and faith. Sin abounds. Is grace enough to conquer doubt and triumph over evil?
Whenever I pick up a book set in 1780s London, I feel as if I'm slipping into an era well-beloved and deeply inspiring. The dedication of men like Wilberforce and his friends, who worked for decades against popular opinion and reasonable hope, is one that always kindles my passion. Alicia Willis's book, containing key figures like John Newton and Wilberforce, and mentioning others like Thomas Clarkson and Olaudah Equiano, brought me back to that era very skillfully.
My favorite thing about this book from an artistic standpoint was the triple point of view. Point of view (abbreviated as POV) is the character through whose eyes you watch the story unfold. Triple POVs take skill and work to pull off, and Alicia Willis did an excellent job. Each character--Russell, Jack, and Elizabeth--has a different "voice" to their narrative: different things they need to learn, things they struggle with, sins they need to overcome, wants they have. And that's exactly what you want to see in a well done book: each POV matters and accomplishes a different object.
My favorite character arc was Elizabeth's. Her theme surprised me in many ways--learning to stand up to her fiance and resist him. It's a theme you don't really see often in homeschool lit: standing for the Lord on individual conscience, and allowing that conscience to dictate your actions. (mild spoilers follow) It's a delicate theme to handle correctly. I learned a lot from it, and felt like Alicia struck a wise balance of individual conscience without turning Elizabeth into a person who only looked to herself for wisdom. Too often in lit you see the latter happen, but that wasn't the case here. Elizabeth realized that resisting her fiance was really obeying the Lord. Plus, she transferred her obedience and submission to wiser and more biblical authority, still holding herself under authority itself. She just learned to stand up to what was unwise. It's a theme I think about a lot. God has been teaching me much about my need for courageous humility, and I appreciated a role model in this book.
Due to my familiarity with the era, there were moments when Russell's story line felt like a fairly basic recap of the times. I think I learned more about historical details I was less familiar with through Elizabeth's side of the story. Also, there were moments when Jack felt too mature for his age, in the way he talked and explained the Gospel. His speech sounded more like a pastor than a London street boy at times: but he has an earnest heart, so I'm willing to believe that he had really, honestly sought the Lord and grown so rapidly in spiritual maturity.
One of the most inspiring things to me in this book was Jack's constant witness of the Gospel. I've been thinking a lot about witnessing lately, and God has been growing that desire in my heart to witness to someone who doesn't know the Lord. Jack's constant passion for the Gospel and concern for those who didn't know it convicted me. We have this good news. We need to share this good news. Jack constantly, clearly presented the Gospel. If we've shared and the other person rejects it, many of us would rationalize that our duty has been done. But he didn't buy that excuse. He kept on sharing it, because until it was accepted, he knew his responsibility was still there. He had weary moments, angry moments--but his close fellowship with God carried him through those times.
This book is a good story to introduce you to a lot of things: the truth of the Gospel, the need for witnessing, the horrors of the slave trade, and the times of one of my favorite heroes, William Wilberforce.