Ethereally beautiful but deeply tortured Angel was sold into prostitution when she was only eight years old. At eighteen, she succeeded in escaping the man who abused her and made her way to California, but she ended up right back in a life of prostitution as a matter of survival and is now the most expensive and coveted whore in the brothel where she works. After watching her mother pine for the father who never wanted her and being used by men for years, Angel doesn't believe in love. All she wants is to earn enough money to build a little cabin in the woods where she can be alone. Then Michael Hosea enters her life, offering her so much more, but she doesn't dare to believe it could be real.
After falling in love with her at first sight and believing that God has told him that Angel is the woman for him, Michael spends his gold night after night just for the opportunity to talk with the lovely young woman and try to convince her to marry him. However, the cynical Angel has heard it all before and doesn't trust him. But when it becomes abundantly clear that her dreams will never be fulfilled, she tries to kill herself by goading the brothel's bouncer into beating her up. He nearly succeeds in ending her life, and as she lays in a barely conscious state, Michael returns for her. She finally agrees to wed him but swears never to give him her heart. Michael has his work cut out for him winning Angel over, but his gentleness gradually begins to melt the icy sheath around her heart. The closer they grow, though, the more afraid of her feelings Angel becomes, driving her to run from them by leaving her husband several times. Each time, Michael patiently comes after her to bring her back, but in the end, Angel will have to discover a power greater than herself in order to find the courage to stay for good and accept the love that Michael freely offers.
I first read Redeeming Love probably close to twenty-five years ago and I recalled loving it. Since then, it's become something of a romance classic that's often held up as being among the best the genre has to offer. Because of these things, I was very much looking forward to rereading it. After all this time, I'd only remembered a few small bits and pieces of the story, so it was like rediscovering it all over again, and I'm happy to report that I still loved it. The book was inspired by the biblical story of Hosea and Gomer, and is set against the backdrop of California during the gold rush days. It tells the story of Angel, a young woman who was sold into prostitution as a child and hasn't known any other life since. As the main part of her narrative begins, she's working in a brothel in a small frontier town that sprang up around the gold rush called Pair-a-Dice. Because of her ethereal beauty, she's the most sought-after and expensive whore in town and only the men who've made the most prosperous strikes can afford her services. Along comes Michael Hosea, a simple farmer, and from the moment he lays eyes on her, he falls in love at first sight and feels like God is telling him that this is the woman who is meant for him. He ends up spending most of the gold he makes selling produce to the general store just to spend half an hour with her, night after night, trying to convince her to leave her life of prostitution behind and marry him. Of course, it's nothing the cynical Angel hasn't heard before, so it isn't until the brothel's bouncer nearly beats her to death and she's in a weak and semi-conscious state that she agrees to Michael's proposal. But their union is one that's fraught by the demons of Angel's past haunting her, while Michael struggles to be patient and show her the true meaning of love, something that is a foreign concept to her.
Angel was born out of wedlock to a wealthy man who didn't want any more children and his mistress. While her parents were together, the young Angel's life seemed charmed, but when her father left her mother, everything fell apart. Not even family would help the unwed mother and her bastard child, so her mother was reduced to engaging in prostitution to survive. However, she never got over her broken heart and tragically died too soon, leaving an eight-year-old Angel behind. The man who they were living with at the time was an intellectually challenged fellow who thought he was giving Angel a better life when he sold her to a wealthy man named Duke, but in reality, she was thereafter consigned to a life of prostitution. Eventually she escaped Duke and took a ship to California with hopes of making a better life for herself, but the necessity of survival once again drove her back into her old life, which is how she ends up in Pair-a-Dice, where she meets Michael. The man dives her crazy, coming back every night, making promises she doesn't believe, but when he finally stops coming, a small part of her misses him. However, all she really wants is to make enough gold to get out of the business and build a little cabin in the woods for herself where she can be alone, but when she realizes that's never going to happen, she goads the bouncer into beating her in a moment of suicidal desperation. As she lay there wishing she were dead, that's when Michael finally returns, marries her, and whisks her away to his little cabin in the woods. But Angel still has an extremely long road ahead of her to find wholeness again, during which she leaves Michael several times before they finally find their HEA.
This book primarily focuses on Angel and how she overcomes the horrific stuff life has handed her to finally find peace, happiness, and love with a man who adores her. She is such a tortured, tragic, and sympathetic character, and her characterization is among the deepest and best I've ever read. Normally when a heroine is as stubborn and difficult as she is, I tend to get frustrated with her, but not so with Angel. Ms. Rivers is masterful at showing exactly what's driving Angel and how hard it is for her to believe that there's even such a thing as love, much less that she's worthy of it. Her transformation is a gradual one of baby steps that slowly grow into bigger ones until she's finally a whole person again. I appreciate this so much, because many stories of this nature might gloss over a character's past or not offer enough insight to understand what makes her tick, but with Angel she's a fully realized character from the opening pages and every event, big and small, plays into making her who she is. Although it might have been nice if she hadn't left Michael so many times, or done some of the things she did, it still all made sense and made the story and her journey so much more relatable, powerful, and realistic. When Angel finally comes full-circle, it's a glorious and beautiful thing, where the reader simply knows she can be trusted to never do it again.
While we learn some things about Michael's past that play into who he is, such as not having an ideal upbringing and losing his sister on the wagon train west, he's mostly a what-you-see-is-what-you-get kind of guy. He's a genuinely good, kind, sweet man with the patience of a saint, who tries his best to follow God's voice. When he feels like God is telling him to marry Angel and goes to see her, she tries her best to seduce him. While Michael is tempted, he knows that if he gives in to his lust, it will only reinforce everything she already believes about men, so he must behave differently or she'll never trust him. Even after he marries her and takes her back to his homestead, he waits a good long while before making love to her, because he wants her to be able to see it as an act of love and not just an obligation. However, every time he seems to be making headway, Angel gets scared of the feelings he's stirring in her and runs away. Each time, Michael patiently goes after her and brings her back, until the last time, when he realizes that she's going to have to figure things out and make a choice for herself. During the first few times she leaves, especially the second when she does some seemingly unforgivable things, he must find compassion in his heart for her, but as he learns more about her past, he comes to understand her deeply while also hurting for her. Michael is probably about as close to a perfect hero as one can get. Sure, he gets angry on occasion, and understandably so, but deep down, he's a truly wonderful guy who accepts Angel as she is from the very start and never expects her to change to meet some undefined standard. He forgives her (and others) when necessary, he's kind to everyone, he lives out his faith by showing God's love in a beautiful and tangible way, and most of all, his love for Angel never dies no matter how bad things get or how bleak their future may seem.
I happen to be lucky enough to own an original copy of this book that was first published in 1991 by mainstream publisher, Bantam. In it's original form, this was not a squeaky clean story despite having a lovely underlying faith message, and as far as I know, being classified as an inspirational romance from the start. If you happen to have (or acquire) this version, please note that it does contain a moderate amount of language, some sensuality (which is why I gave it three hearts on my sensuality scale), and it certainly doesn't gloss over Angel's life as a prostitute. As a person of faith myself, I was not at all put off by any of this, but I know many would be. If anything, though, I thought that it made the redemption message that much more powerful, because it actually shows what things were like for Angel before meeting Michael.
IMHO, it also made the story considerably more realistic. After all, immoral people such as Duke or those one might find working in or frequenting a brothel are hardly going to be circumspect about their language. Also, I felt having Michael struggle with lust when going to visit Angel at the brothel or even after bringing her home, only made him seem more human, but having him resist that temptation also differentiated him from all the other men in her life. Additionally I felt that the love scenes between Michael and Angel (which were pretty mild, BTW) were necessary to show how the genuine intimacy was affecting Angel, as well as to show a contrast between the sexual encounters she had as a prostitute and the loving nature of her intimate relationship with Michael. Yet another thing is that Michael's brother-in-law, Paul, harbors a deep hatred and disdain for Angel from the moment he meets her and often calls her derogatory names both in his speech and in his mind, without which his own redemption moment might not be quite as convincing. I say all these things as a preface to explain that in skimming through the excerpts available on Amazon's "Look Inside" feature, it appears that when the book was republished by Christian publisher, Multnomah, in the late 1990s that parts of the story were rewritten and most (if not all) of this content was removed. I know that frequent readers and true fans of inspirational romance would probably disagree with me, but I find this a bit sad as the parts I was able to read in their new form seemed a bit watered down as a result. I'm sure that it's still a lovely story no matter what, but I'll always harbor a fond preference for this original version.
Redeeming Love is truly a one-of-a-kind story that expresses the genuine power of love in all its many forms to help heal a person and turn their life around. There's the friendship kind of love that Angel shares with her new friend, Miriam, when the girl's family moves to the same valley where Michael lives. Angel makes no secret of her past with them and yet they accept her anyway. There's the romantic love that she shares with Michael that proves to be true, loyal, and unending for both of them. And then there's the love of God who is portrayed here, not as a wrathful, vengeful deity, but one who loves his children, speaks softly and gently to them, and never gives up on them, reminding me of a couple of favorite praise songs we often sing in church called "Fierce" and "Reckless Love." I believe wholeheartedly in the redeeming power of love, which is expressed in this book so beautifully. Overall, Redeeming Love is an exceptional story that has managed to cross barriers in the romance genre and has found fans even among non-religious readers, while proving to have withstood the test of time. I think a large part of this is owing to the fact that unlike many inspirational romances I've read, it's never pithy or preachy, but instead is a meaty story full of depth and complexity. I can only hope that the upcoming movie adaptation will be equally as powerful.
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