A blacksmith leaves his native England in search of a better life for himself and his wife in this love story set in the 17th century.
John Dairyman was destined to be just what his name indicated—a poor dairy farmer, just like his father, James. But when he’s 12 years old, he’s given a chance to apprentice with William, the local blacksmith—a lucky opportunity to improve his future prospects. John is an indefatigable worker, and uncommonly gifted—more like an artist than a tradesman—and his talent becomes widely recognized. However, William, an “intolerant and fiendish master,” subjects John to cruel humiliation and physical abuse. At one point, William nearly burns his own barn down and blames it on his apprentice. Around the same time, John falls in love with Chastity, a beautiful neighbor. She not only teaches him how to read and write, but also introduces him to Christianity—a revelatory experience that changes his outlook on life, which Prater (The Long Road Home, 2014) describes in achingly earnest terms. To avoid William’s wrath, John feels compelled to sign papers of indentured servitude and sets sail for Boston, but he falls prey to an unscrupulous captain who takes advantage of his skills. Chastity follows to become a governess in the New World, where she turns into the target of a man’s predatory advances. The backbone of Prater’s intelligent story is John’s unbending character and his uncompromising submission to obligation. The author also artfully captures how human immorality can easily surface when opportunity allows it. However, the narrative often devolves into sententious proselytizing, and at times, the prose can be almost childlike in tone: “James knew an amazing gift had just been given him. The offer of such a gift filled him with warmth. He felt joy beyond all that could be imagined. He thought, So this is what I have been missing.”
A melodramatic historical tale that’s too eager to offer moral lessons.