This is one of the best books I've read so far this year. Actually, it's one of the best books I've EVER read. It's filled with such rich character development and meaty discussions of how God's words apply to our lives. I talk a lot about how important characters are to me when it comes to enjoying a book or coming to love it -- these characters were so real and wonderful, I actually worried about what was happening to them whenever I wasn't actively reading the book. That's some powerful writing, folks.
I also loved how Martin Luther was portrayed: kind, humorous, compassionate, stubborn, hasty, and wholly dedicated to understanding the Word of God and illuminating it for others. Not a saint, but not a satyr either (do yourself a favor and don't read Luther and Katherina by Jody Hedlund. EVER). He's shown to be an intelligent, determined, Christ-focused man, both human and humane.
The main character, Heinrich Ritter, is studying law at the University of Wittenberg. When he can, he attends Dr. Luther's theology lectures. Heinrich boards with a middle-class family, the Diefenbachs, who live just outside town. He's romantically interested in their oldest daughter, Marlein, but hesitates to make his interest known to her because she spends all her time caring for her family. Her father is a busy candlemaker, kind but often distracted. Her mother suffers from crippling depression centered around mutliple miscarriages, among other things, and rarely leaves her room. That leaves Marlein to run the household and cares for the children.
Into this hectic world bursts Brigita, Heinrich's younger sister who's running from her past and carrying a secret. Through caring for his sister and trying to ease Marlein's load, Heinrich comes to undersand that God's plans are not always our plans, and that sometimes the best way to help someone is just to ask, "What can I do?" instead of trying to solve their problems for them. He seeks guidance from Dr. Luther several times, trying to understand what his role is as a brother, a possible suitor, and a friend, and I think the thing I loved best about this book (aside from the characters) was how it looked at vocations and burdens from so many angles.
Plus, it's beautifully written, paying wonderful attention to historical details. I don't know what Baughman intends to write next, but I do know I already want to read whatever it is.
Particularly Good Bits:
"This is where we see, without exception, the heart of the Christian faith: love. God's love for His people, and His people's love for one another, and for the world. We are to bear one another's burdens, to stir one another up to love and good works. That is to say, we are to admonish, encourage, help, and be patient, in love. Because He has loved us with so great a love, poured His mercy and grace on us in the life, works, suffering, death, and resurrection of His Son, the Christ, we are to love one another. We are to carry his love to the world. The broken world, the world lost in its own pleasure, its own slothfulness, its own weakness and despair. Because He loved us with an everlasting love" (p. 159-160).
If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG-13 for oblique references to sexual activity, a non-descriptive discussion of rape, unwed pregnancy, childbirth, depression, and accusations of witchcraft. No bad language or sexual situations, only a little mild violence, but I wouldn't let my young children read it. Fine for teens on up.