Genre: historical fiction; Inspirational; classic
Plot Summary: A year has elapsed since the Lord of Lossie passed away and still Malcolm has not claimed his identity as rightful heir. Lady Florimel has been spending her time in London with friends, but their bad influence is rubbing off on her and it has Malcolm worried. How can he best protect her while in her employ as groom? Meanwhile, will the steward of the House of Lossie succeed in ruining the fisherfolk’s village?
My Book Review: I enjoyed reading the first in this series by George Macdonald, The Fisherman’s Lady (see book review here). I loved the Gothic atmosphere set in Scotland– full of ghosts, superstition, crackling fires, and fresh landscapes. I was looking forward to more of that.
This book had its strengths and weaknesses. I appreciate short chapters, so that was a plus. But I definitely did not find it on a par with TFL. Probably the thing I missed most was the above mentioned atmosphere. Half the book is set in London and the south of England. While the rest does take place in Scotland, it just didn’t have the same gothic appeal.
However, the book did contain some of its own sweetness.
It takes a lot for me to label a book “preachy”. I would love to write a post later on this topic if I ever get around to it! I don’t fall into the same camp as a lot of folks who eschew spiritual conversations in books as though that made for a literary downfall. However, when the characters themselves seek to turn every spare moment into an opportunity for a sermon… yes, I take issue with that just as I would if they were real life characters. I admired Malcolm for his honest living before God and others, and he had intentions for good all along. But one can easily turn a person away from the Gospel when they’re a one-note johnny. There’s no room for the Holy Spirit to do His work. This was an irksome element for me.
But as I said, I respected Malcolm and he was hard not to like. I loved his looking at a situation straight on and shining God’s light on all around him.
“Malcolm was one of the few who understood the shelter of light, the protection to be gained by the open presentation of the truth.”
He lived out the Book of Proverbs in a refreshing way. He believed that if you’re right with God and man, there’s no need to fear anything. He is a novelty in the world around him, and to us living in our world today. “But the noble man makes noble plans, and by noble deeds he stands.” (Isa. 32:8) Because of this, I would recommend George Macdonald’s books especially for young people. They’re entirely safe, wholesome stories that I would have enjoyed reading growing up.
An example of Malcolm’s good character qualities is his showing his sister some tough love. SPOILER ALERT: He held out hope that he would not have to go to extremes to protect her but as she kept pushing him away, he eventually came to the decision that claiming his authority, dealing her an intervention and giving her an alternative was the best thing to do for her, even if she completely rejected his love. On the flip side, Macdonald wraps everything up too quickly and neatly all in the same chapter, and Florimel does a complete 180 in about a second and a half which was not believable (unfortunately, one of the book’s weaknesses). END OF SPOILER.
Another one of the book’s downsides is Macdonald frequently skipping over essential plot parts that seemed to bore him or that he forgot to write about so he went back and stuck it in quickly by saying, “I’ll just mention here that Malcolm did xyz…” End of Chapter. Felt a bit lame and lazy to me.
There were quite a few good quotes out of this one, popping up in those spiritual conversations Malcolm has with Lady Florimel, Lady Clementina and other characters. But my favorite thing about the story was the unsaid parable that wove itself throughout and culminated in a fairytale-like ending, which is maybe what Macdonald is best at. I’ve been reading in the book of Isaiah lately for my devotions and came across this verse. With what’s been going on in the news, I’ve been longing for Jesus to come back and put things right. When every knee shall bow and tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord and “the Lord Almighty will be exalted by His justice, and the holy God will show Himself holy by His righteousness.” (Isa. 5:16) He will make justice the measuring line and righteousness the plumb line (Isa. 28:17). “And a highway will be there; it will be called the Way of Holiness. The unclean will not journey on it; it will be for those who walk in that Way; wicked fools will not go about on it. No lion will be there, nor will any ferocious beast get up on it; they will not be found there. But only the redeemed will walk there… Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away.” (Isa. 35) Doesn’t that sound wonderful? Even so, come Lord Jesus!
How does that apply to us living in today? As God’s children, we are to be carriers of justice and beautiful holiness as well. And that is just what Malcolm illustrates when he comes back to Portlossie. He fellowships with even the humblest of his tenants; the faithful are rewarded; fairness is set in order; the wicked are castigated and the repentant are encouraged. Although—a bone to pick here: SPOILER ALERT: As the “ruler” of Lossie, I don’t believe the punishment Malcolm meted out to Mrs. Catanach and Caley was a just example to other citizens of law and order; I believe he let them off too lightly. I know the point was his trying to demonstrate mercy but the biblical illustration of the kingdom of heaven falls short here. This is because of one of Macdonald’s fundamental beliefs (see below) END OF SPOILER.
As much as I enjoyed the scriptural truths played out in this fiction, there were some holes from Macdonald’s own faulty theology also present. I could have written them down but honestly I don’t have time for that and don’t feel like being more of a watchdog here than what I am already. So I’ll spare you the point by point analysis. Besides, I can’t remember what they all were anyway. 🙂 I did find it interesting that Master Graham was ousted by the church for being ‘heretical’ but we are not told what his unorthodox teachings were. George Macdonald didn’t believe in the concept of hell; he believed it was not in God’s nature. Yet the justice of God (as already described, a major theme in The Marquis’ Secret) demands a dealing with unrepentant sin. There is also quite an emphasis on being good, yet not exactly receiving Christ’s work on the cross for us. The reason for this is because Macdonald also didn’t accept the orthodox view of Christ’s atonement for sin. To him, salvation was only a process of evolution toward Christ-likeness. I believe it is both and am disappointed Macdonald erred on such major points of doctrine.
However, one of the things Macdonald did well was teach the concept of “God as Father, and sought to encourage an intuitive response to God and Christ through quickening his readers’ spirits in their reading of the Bible and their perception of nature.”
This probably wasn’t George Macdonald’s best, but it did fully demonstrate his core beliefs. And that won’t keep me from enjoying more of his books in the future.
A closing quote from the book:
“…in the kingdom of heaven to rule is to raise; a man’s rank is in his power to uplift.”
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