THE THORN BEARER by Pepper Basham

This is a bold, compelling story that sweeps across minefields of the Atlantic and of the heart. From the back cover:

From the decks of the ill-fated Lusitania to the smoke-filled trenches of France, Ashleigh must choose between the forgiveness of her past, life in the present, and a Savior who can rescue her from them all.

When her fiancé leaves her eight months before their wedding, the unexpected blow ignites a battalion of insecurities stemming from her father’s intimate betrayal. Her worst fears are confirmed – who could ever love a soiled woman? In an attempt to escape the shame and disappointment of her past, Ashleigh boards the ill-fated Lusitania to cross the war-torn waters of Europe. Much to her dismay, she isn’t traveling alone.

Sam Miller is always making up for his best friend’s mistakes. Determined to help Ashleigh, he offers his compassion and protection as she ventures across a perilous sea. With the faint hope of renewing his lost love for Ashleigh’s sister, Sam never expects to find the woman of his dreams in his best friend’s former fiancé and his own childhood companion.

As they travel across the Atlantic, neither is prepared for the life-altering and heart-breaking journey of their friendship. When the truth of Ashleigh’s past explodes in the middle of war and Sam rejects her, Ashleigh must decide if God is enough – or if the double weight of her betrayal and past will crush her life forever.

The description of The Thorn Bearer paints a heavy, emotional journey for Ashleigh, Sam as well. And indeed it is. But the story proceeds at a brisk pace, and relief comes in bright spots of various forms ~

~ Generous support of a kindred spirit, such as Sam comforting his friend: “None of this was your fault, Ashleigh … Michael was the fool and coward. I’m sorry he broke your heart.”

~ Insights that might resonate with readers, such as Ashleigh’s: “Time has proven to heal many of the wounds Michael left behind, it has also clarified other feelings. Time is a powerful friend or adversary.”                    

~ Tender interactions with children

~ Self-sacrifice by many characters

Multiple storylines bring us characters who arouse both interest and emotion. They’re wounded in a wide variety of ways. Their lives collide and twist together then apart, at times by choice. And sometimes the separation is forced upon them, such as when the Lusitania is torpedoed and sinks.

The Thorn Bearer is a dance of communication amidst a fast-flowing stream of situations that shuffle the characters and their futures. Exquisitely veiled dialogue allows much opportunity for misunderstanding and plot complications. Basham excels in hinting at feelings not shown and things left unsaid. Romance stories benefit from this skill.

To be fair, romances are generally not my genre of choice. And romance in this novel is a major focus. Some sexual elements are also involved—though sensitively handled and more referenced than shown. But the story is equally about forgiveness (in many contexts other than sexual). Some typos/repeated words interrupted the flow briefly, but not enough to prevent understanding.

Basham braids her story around the taut theme of broken people needing to give and receive forgiveness. Her characters indulge in a wide variety wrong-doing ~ lies and half-truths, assault, betrayal, theft, cruelty among them ~ allowing all story lines to be neatly woven into a powerful, cohesive tale. The spiritual elements emerge and flow naturally from the characters’ struggles.

THE THORN BEARER is an energetic story (much like the author herself) that covers a lot of territory ~ both across the dangerous miles of the Atlantic Ocean and the minefields of the heart. It is a satisfying book and I look forward to reading the rest of the series.

You can learn more about Pepper, her abundant joy, bountiful humor, and the romances she weaves these into on her blog.


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