LDS fiction often gets a bad rap for being light, frivolous fluff and many readers assume it’s all mindless romance stories. For years as an author or reviewer, I was met with the comment, “Oh, I never read fiction; I only read doctrinal books.” Most LDS authors were thrilled when Thomas S. Monson became the president of the Church because, among other reasons, he’s a man who reads and quotes from a large cross section of books; non-fiction, poetry, and fiction.
I firmly believe that fiction can play a key role in strengthening our faith, giving us an emotional as well as intellectual bond with doctrinal concepts, opening the past, and can serve as a means of relieving stress, providing enjoyment, increasing understanding, and giving insight into dealing with everyday problems.
Over the next few months you’ll see some changes in this column. First off it will become a bi-weekly column instead of a weekly feature. More emphasis will be given to LDS concepts and I’ll make a greater effort to explain literary terms and devices. Sometimes I’ll review a single book and other times I’ll use several books that share a common theme or illustrate a like point. I’ll also encourage more reader feedback in discussions, in suggesting topics of interest, and clarifying points of disagreement.
I’ll begin today by talking about series or sequels. Because so many LDS writers have created series, some people tend to equate LDS novels with soap operas which really isn’t fair, but understandable since sequels are much like what we once called a continued story. Characters and a dilemma are introduced in the first book, then a second book picks up the story using the same characters, then a third, and so on. Each book gives some attention to resolving the major problem introduced in the first book, but the emphasis is on a piece of the puzzle in each succeeding story.
The major character in each book may be different or remain the same with a minor character in one book often becoming a major character in the next. With some series such as The Work and the Glory by Gerald Lund, it is critical to follow the books in the sequence written. In Josie Kilpack’s Sadie Hoffmiller Culinary Mystery series it’s advisable to read the first and last books first and last, but the other volumes can pretty well stand alone and be read in any order. Other series present a stand-alone story in each volume, case in point: Traci Hunter Abramson’s Saint Squad series.
A new sequel that stands alone well is Bonds of Loyalty written by a team of sisters; Jennifer K. Clark and Stephonie K. Williams. This is their second book together and Jennifer’s third published novel. It is a sequel to Mark of Royalty.
Bonds of Loyalty is the story of Sarah who is the first-born child and a princess of an imaginary kingdom reminiscent of renaissance England. She wasn’t raised as a princess and didn’t know her true identity nor learn she has a few minutes younger male twin until her adopted mother died when she was eighteen years old. Now at nineteen she is engaged to marry the prince from the kingdom where she was raised, whom she has loved since before the discovery of her identity. Without any royal training she feels inadequate in her new role and unworthy to become the prince’s bride. Also before they can marry she must visit her own country and meet her parents and twin brother.
The journey is long and dangerous so Prince Alex assigns his own personal guard to watch over her and keep her safe from the prince’s cousin, who desires to become the king, and any of her countrymen, who see her as an impediment to their own political ambitions. Also accompanying her are servants, soldiers, a companion woman, and the man who stole her away as an infant and gave her to her foster mother to rear.
She arrives to a warm welcome from her brother, a critically ill mother, and a cold and aloof father. She is also greeted by her father’s brother, Tobias, who made threats against her before she was born, but now seems to be kind and concerned for her welfare. She is haunted by a prophecy made by an old priest years ago before his death concerning the country’s first born which her people believe in, but she knows must be a mistake or error of some kind.
The country is divided into two factions and Sarah’s presence makes matters worse. Civil war is looming over the country and someone is trying to kill or kidnap her. Complicating matters further is the attraction she feels toward her guard when she is engaged to his commander, Prince Alexander. Confused by feelings of inadequacy, separation from Alex, threats of war, and the prophecy, Sarah struggles between a desire to run away and loyalty to the country she represents.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is never mentioned in this book, but strong LDS concepts are used here to show the dilemma Sarah faces in deciding whether to take the easier path in following the attraction she feels for the guard and the simpler life she would face with him. She has choices to make that determine her personal standards, the covenants she has made, and her purpose in life.
The renaissance-like setting for this book feels realistic and though the plot is somewhat predictable, it presents an interesting and enjoyable contrast to other novels presently on the market. The plot is paced well, holds the reader’s attention, and contains varied sidelights that enhance the tension. Both Prince Alex and Sarah’s twin, Prince Michael, are more than a little chauvinistic, but that suits the time period.
Sarah is likable, but not a strong heroine. She dithers a lot, closes her mind to anything she doesn’t want to think about, loses focus, and is klutzy, but she is also caring, honest, optimistic, and has a desire to do the right thing. In spite of feelings of inadequacy, she discovers hidden strength when she places her loyalty firmly on the side of justice and responsibility. She matures and gains greater self-confidence as the book progresses.
Jennifer K. Clark and Stephonie K. Williams live in different parts of the country; Clark in Utah and Williams in Iowa. Clark and her husband have three children while Williams and her husband have one.
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BONDS OF LOYALTY by Jennifer K. Clark and Stephonie K. Williams, published by Covenant Communications, soft cover $15.99. Also available on CD and for e-readers.