Title: A Gown of Spanish Lace
Genre: Christian Fiction
Rating: 4 of 5 Crosses.
Warning – Contains Mild Spoilers
A Gown of Spanish Lace is a Christian Fiction/Western Romance novel written by the renowned Janette Oke. The story follows Ariana, a young woman of sixteen who lives in the town of Smithton. She is the town’s school teacher and Sunday School teacher, and the adopted daughter of Pastor Benson and Mrs. Benson.
Ariana’s birth parents were killed in an Indian raid when they were moving west with a group of pioneers. Ariana had been saved by her “Aunt Lucy,” a dear friend of her ma’s that took care of her for a few years before allowing the Benson’s to adopt her. Dear Aunt Lucy died soon after Ariana’s adoption. Since being old enough to understand the second chance of life she had been given, Ariana views her life as a chance to learn more about and teach her students about a loving God.
Not too far away from Smithton lives Laramie Russell, son of the renowned bandit Will Russell. He lives in a hidden camp of outlaws. While he’s rough and tough around the edges, he has a slight moral compass that causes trouble for his pa. Unlike every other outlaw in the camp, Laramie has never killed a man. Will Russell sees fit to change that, lest Laramie end up with a bullet in his back.
Thus, Will Russell devises a plan with his right hand man, Sam. If they can kidnap a beautiful woman and make Laramie fall in love with her, he should be willing to fight to kill for her.
On a winter evening, in the presence of a coming, dangerous blizzard, Will Russell and Sam make their way into Smithton and kidnap Ariana at her school. Their plan is a perfect one – nobody will be able to find them or chase after them due to the heavy snowfall.
About four days of miserably riding in the cold and snow pass before they reach the outlaw camp again. Ariana is put in one of the cabins before anyone can see her, Will Russell wanting to keep her a secret for a little while longer. Will Russell has Sam look after Ariana for awhile before instructing Laramie to guard their prisoner with his life. Laramie is under the assumption that their prisoner is a man, possibly a rival outlaw, but is shell-shocked when he finds out it’s a girl.
While Ariana is terrified of Laramie at first, over time they begin to form an uneasy friendship. He provides her with a washtub and other essentials so she can bathe, as well as presenting her with her own cooking supplies so she doesn’t have to keep eating the sloppy beans and biscuits the rest of them do. In return, Ariana provides polite, yet guarded, conversation, talks to him about the Bible, and even offers him portions of the food she cooks. Ariana is also very gracious when Laramie brings her a trunk of clothing so she won’t have to keep wearing her old, dirty outfit. When she finds out the trunk and its contents belongs to Laramie’s dead mother, she presents Laramie with the Bible and special little container of pins and handkerchiefs in the trunk that way he can have the things that are rightfully his. Because it was his mother’s, Laramie begins to read the Bible – an action that would be frowned upon if his pa or any of his pa’s friends knew.
Things are going fairly well, considering the captive situation, until one day Laramie agrees to take Ariana for a walk around camp to try to get her some fresh air. They are spotted by some of the other outlaws in camp, who make vulgar remarks about Ariana. Worst of all, they now know there’s a woman in camp, and they would love to get their hands on her. Laramie, realizing that he has limited time before the trouble in camp ensues, calls upon his Pawnee friend, White Eagle, for help. Together, the two craft a plan to get Ariana out of the camp and safely back home.
However, when the plan backfires, White Eagle and Laramie will have to risk their very lives to get Ariana somewhere safe. If only Will Russell and his gang weren’t as smart as they truly are…
I gave this book a four out of five rating. It is beautifully written. Pretty women, guns, and outlaws typically make for the perfect Western story, and I loved how Janette Oke took that and turned it upside down to write it in a Christian Fiction format. Laramie is the rugged turned soft “bad boy,” which is honestly one of my favorite tropes in books. (Tell me I’m not the only one!) Also, the Christianity aspect was great and felt realistic nearly the entire time.
I’ll be honest – I have a hard time liking Christian Fiction novels. They are so hard to write well, and a lot of books that I’ve picked up, well, haven’t been written well. They’re incredibly preachy and kind of continue to smack you over the head with the lessons they want you to learn, as opposed to letting you discover them for yourself.
However, the Christianity Janette Oke wrote about was beautifully done. I think I enjoyed it more than any other Christian Fiction books I’ve read because Ariana is already a Christian when the book begins. But, she’s a Christian that struggles throughout the entire book to remember that, despite her circumstances, God loves her, and that this is all happening for a reason. I also thought Laramie’s change from reading the Bible and not understanding a word to discussing it with Ariana to then becoming a Christian is remarkable. There’s never any random “oh, I’m going to decide to be a Christian now” moments; instead, his growth takes time, where God works on his heart in multiple different ways. I really enjoyed that aspect.
That being said, this book wasn’t a five star for me. I won’t reveal any spoilers, but I will just add that the ending could have been much stronger, in my opinion. I loved the characters, loved the plot, loved the story conflict as a whole, but the last paragraph/sentence of the book felt really flat. That’s why this book lost its fifth star (or cross) for me.
One thing that I really enjoyed about this book is that constant throughout the story, is that Ariana is struggling with the verse “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understand…” (Proverbs 3:5). Her family was killed in an Indian raid in which her and her Aunt Lucy were the only survivors, and then she was kidnapped and taken to live in an outlaw camp for months on end with no hope of ever being found or escaping. Throughout her circumstances, she was constantly having to remind herself of this verse. Sometimes it wasn’t easy – Ariana would think of the verse and then banish it from her mind, wondering whether her God really was sovereign and mighty enough. How could she trust Him when this was happening to her? But God continued to work on her heart, drawing her back to that particular verse, and, back to Him.
This was a really inspirational aspect that resonated with me because it is a verse that my husband and I have struggled with from our dating days all the way to now. We had a long distance relationship, living 1,000 miles away from each other, and we could only see each other every other month to once a month. And guys, it sucked. Constantly, we asked ourselves why we should trust God with our relationship. There was a time when we thought my then-boyfriend was going to be able to move to NC to be near me, but then we realized it wasn’t what God wanted. That was one of the hardest experiences of my life. If God wanted me to be with this man, if this was the one God chose for me, then why did we have to keep living so far apart?
It was a question we asked each other all the way up until our wedding, and then someone asked me, if I could, would I go back and change the long distance. In that moment, I realized that by trusting God with the long distance aspect of our relationship, we had learned so much more as a couple. Everyone says communication is key in a healthy relationship – try only being able to talk every single day over text or email or a phone call! We learned how to solve arguments from 1,000 miles away, and how to calm hurt feelings. We learned how to speak more precisely or explain ourselves better instead of allowing miscommunications to make us angry.
God knew exactly what He was doing when He made our relationship one of long distance.
Just like Ariana, there are still times now where my husband and I wonder why the heck we trust instead of taking matters into our own hands. There are times where, like Ariana, I banish trust from my mind due to the circumstances I’m in.
But in the end, every single time, God works on my heart and draws me back to Him and to trust.
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