Last year, a favorite author’s praise prompted me to branch out and read a general fiction title, Impossible Saints. It ended up being one of my favorite reads of the year, and one I revisited recently as its sequel, of sorts, just released!
Bear No Malice by Clarissa Harwood is more like a companion novel whose timeline matches events of Impossible Saints. It focuses on a minor character from book 1 whose role was nearly that of a villain. I really loved this shift in perspective and how it introduces the idea that we all have unique perceptions of our actions and of others. Enough about my thoughts for the moment, here’s more book info and my wordy review!
Beaten and left for dead in the English countryside, clergyman and reformer Tom Cross is rescued and nursed back to health by Miranda and Simon Thorne, reclusive siblings who seem to have as many secrets as he does. Tom has spent years helping the downtrodden in London while lying to everyone he meets, but now he’s forced to slow down and confront his unexamined life.
Miranda, a skilled artist, is haunted by her painful past and unable to imagine a future. Tom is a welcome distraction from her troubles, but she’s determined to relegate him to her fantasy world, sensing that any real relationship with him would be more trouble than it’s worth. Besides, she has sworn to remain devoted to someone she’s left behind.
When Tom returns to London, his life begins to unravel as he faces the consequences of both his affair with a married woman and his abusive childhood. When his secrets catch up with him and his reputation is destroyed, he realizes that Miranda is the only person he trusts with the truth. What he doesn’t realize is that even if she believes him and returns his feelings, he can’t free her from the shackles of her past.
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Bear No Malice is literary fiction at its best, with a vivid historical setting and a story that unfolds with a delicate complexity. Its Dickens-like intricacy takes the reader on a journey right alongside Tom and Miranda as they grow through friendship and exhibit unconditional love (not just in romance but with friends, with family) through mistakes, forgiveness, and reconciliation.
At times, Bear No Malice made me laugh with its tiny bits of humor (the fish fork!) then wrenched my heart out, all in one chapter. Mostly it wrenched my heart out and put it back together one tiny piece at a time. The telling of the story is a TREAT with its brilliant pacing (just slow enough to leave you wanting more of Tom’s, and especially Miranda’s, backstories) and sloooow building romance. But oh, how it pays off and is exquisite! Sometimes, though, I would forget I was reading historical fiction because the characters are so relatable and the emotions raw.
Tom and Miranda are good for each other because he’s magnetic and opinionated and she’s quiet and steady, yet just as stubborn and steadfast. Their personalities complement and spur each other to grow beyond themselves. Part of the brilliance of Tom and Miranda is that I saw myself in their humanity. I am like Miranda in several ways, not that I have experienced anything like her journey, but that her character was so real on the page I could identify with her longings. Her sometimes-reserved, sometimes opinionated ways. And even Tom and his ultimate need for reconciliation, his desire to serve others. They exemplify flawed and grace-covered people.
Another wonderful thread of this novel is its message of grace. It is subtle yet still a beacon for the perceptive reader. The message of the Gospel is portrayed as inherent to the characters, a refreshing and beautiful inclusion for the general fiction market. Tom and Miranda experience things and make choices rarely found in the inspirational genre. This freedom and space to candidly explore such situations makes the story all the more powerful because this novel has such a message of grace and forgiveness, of peace and homecoming, at its heart. **now is a good time for me to mention the content of this novel. It’s clean, with very few mild expletives (I could count them on one hand)**
Beyond the character journey, this novel also draws attention to social issues of the era, such as poverty, penitentiary conditions (kinda like halfway houses of the time), and the evolving roles of women. All of this functions to shine a light on our modern ideas, standards, and complacency, in a positive manner. I believe its intent is for the reader to look around and take note of his or her own community and opportunities. 🙂 For me, it was encouraging.
Thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for the review copy. This is my honest review.
Check out my review of Clarissa Harwood’s previous book Impossible Saints