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Monday, March 9, 2009

An Unlikely Missionary by Skylar Hamilton Burris

An Unlikely Missionary by Skylar Hamilton Burris
Publisher: Double Edge Press
Genre: Historical; Inspirational
Length: Full
Heat: Sweet
Rating: 4.5 books
Reviewed by Ivy

In the pages of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, Charlotte Collins seems the antithesis of romance. She possesses neither beauty nor sparkling personality, as she herself ruefully acknowledges. Her lack of fortune and prospects forces her to adopt a pragmatic view of life, and, much to the horror of her close friend Elizabeth Darcy, she consents to marry the boorish Mr. Collins, a respectable rector.

From there, Skylar Hamilton Burris picks up the tale. In An Unlikely Missionary, Charlotte and her husband find themselves in the presence of Lady Catherine de Bourgh, who informs them that she has arranged a mission trip for them. This seeming whim of their benefactress will prove to have far greater consequences than any of them can foresee.

Charlotte finds herself far away from the world she once knew and the practical niche she had carved within it. This new world ushers in a new cast of characters: fellow missionaries, Indian villagers, and their fascinating, mysterious, and handsome leader, Mr. Rivers. Charlotte discovers that the very traits she thought were disadvantages in her old world are valued highly by her fellow workers and even by the harsh Mr. Rivers. But will her practicality and pragmatism enable her to endure tragedy, brace her for the revelation of Mr. Rivers’ past, and equip her to search her soul and discover who she really is?

Though not official, I flatter myself in believing I am a Janeite, for Pride and Prejudice is the bible by which I judge all romances. What could make for more fascinating reading than an epilogue of the life of Charlotte Lucas? Hers is one of the stories in Jane Austen’s classic that does not resolve itself to anyone’s satisfaction, for how could marriage to such a disgusting, embarrassing toady of a man bring a reader closure?

So it was with great expectations I began An Unlikely Missionary. My first desire, upon learning the book’s story-line, was for Charlotte to bash her husband, Mr. Collins, over the head, fall wildly in love with some rake, and stuff Lady Catherine de Bourgh up that damn chimney that cost 800 pounds.

It was not an immediate roller coaster of emotions. After a bewitching first page, I found myself setting the story aside and wondering at my initial excitement. Curiosity however got the best of me and I again picked up reading and made my way through a passage to India, trying to absorb the complexity and large amounts of characters and back-story. India then began to cast its spell over the cast, and the story became hypnotic for me as well.

One intriguing aspect was the authenticity of Charlotte’s character. The author not only has a hauntingly familiar Austen-esque voice, but is painfully true to our plain, sensible heroine. Charlotte’s devotion to the people around her, even her patience for her pathetic husband, is charming. As we see her fight feelings for another man we know she should admire, her commitment to always do the right thing earns her a grudging respect. The journey to India and back again is a direct parallel to Charlotte’s internal struggles. Despite wanting her to show more spunk, I began to respect this woman and believe in her; more than that, I believed what I was reading and that says so very much about the talent of an author who extends a classic into another novel.

An Unlikely Missionary appears to be well researched. The beauty and savagery of the setting and time period are artfully intertwined into the plot so one does not drown in long purple passages.

Despite the slow start, this story deserves a high rating due to writing quality and voice. The reading does not come easy or predictable, because it is deep and thought-provoking. While those looking for spicy romance or a fast, cliché read would be disappointed, they obviously are not the target audience of the book. Without spoiling the fun, I must assure you that she does find love.

Austen fans will not be disappointed. An Unlikely Missionary is believable and sweet. I for one will never again concern myself with what happened to “Poor Charlotte.” Elizabeth Bennet’s friend deserved her happily after, too, and I am completely satisfied. That being said, I would not hesitate to pick up another book by this author.