The Harry Potter of Christian Romance, Redeeming Love tops popularity polls regularly. Translated into 30 languages, this book has sold over three million copies worldwide. It’s a guilty pleasure, Bible retelling, tender romance and historical drama all rolled into one. Better still, its Christian messages are inspirational and uplifting without being preachy, so you can enjoy the romantic drama even if you aren’t religious. And it’s finally getting a movie in 2021! To prepare for this momentous occasion, we recommend trying out these 10 historical novels.
1. A Lineage of Grace, by Francine Rivers
If the prospect of Bible fanfiction drew you to Redeeming Love, you will definitely appreciate A Lineage of Grace. It’s actually a collection of novellas examining the stories of Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba, and Mary, all Biblical women related to Jesus. Like immersive commentaries, the novellas fill gaps in the Biblical stories, setting the scene and making sense of the historical and cultural contexts of the five women. There’s drama and romance, too, so you don’t have to be a Bible buff to read them. Either way, there’s a handy study guide at the end of each novella. And when you’re finished, you can move on to Sons of Encouragement and learn about Biblical men.
2. The Preacher’s Promise, by Piper Huguley
Piper Huguley has made a name for herself writing Christian historical fiction starring African-American protagonists. In The Preacher’s Promise, she takes us back to 1866 and post-Civil War Georgia. After her father dies unexpectedly, Amanda Stewart decides to uphold his legacy by starting a school in Milford, Georgia, a town of former slaves from the nearby plantation. There she immediately clashes with Virgil Smithson, Milford’s mayor, preacher, and blacksmith, who has no time for the uppity miss from up north. But when they’re forced to marry for “propriety,” can their marriage of inconvenience turn into a meeting of minds? Christian historical romances can be pretty white, but Huguley centers black communities in the Reconstruction era.
3. The Painted Veil, by W. Somerset Maugham
In The Painted Veil, we follow Kitty, a flighty young wife who is forced to do some serious self-reflection when her doctor husband drags her off to an isolated Chinese village devastated by cholera. It may not be a “Christian” novel, but it’s deeply reminiscent of Redeeming Love. Maybe it’s the remote 1920s period setting. Or the thorny relationship between Kitty and her husband, Walter. Perhaps it’s the themes of guilt and forgiveness. Or perhaps it’s Kitty herself, who initially despises her husband, but comes to respect him. The Painted Veil lacks the romanticism of the 2006 movie adaptation, but it’s still a compelling portrait of emotional growth and a couple growing closer.
4. Hadassah: One Night With The King, by Tommy Tenney and Mark Andrew Olsen
Despite its slightly racy title, Hadassah: One Night With The King is a respectful retelling of the Book of Esther. Olsen and Tenney excel at putting the story in its historical context, filling in the details of the Bible’s bare-bones account. A real life (but much darker) version of The Bachelor, there is plenty of drama, complete with cut-throat rivalry worthy of a soap opera. The stakes are also much higher as Esther attempts to keep the faith while hiding her Jewish heritage from a rabidly anti-Semitic royal advisor. The starting point of Esther’s story may be disempowering, but her courage gets to shine far beyond her Big Damn Hero moment in this retelling. You could also try The Road Home, a modern day spin on Ruth by the same authors.
5. Love Comes Softly, by Janette Oke
Redeeming Love’s reluctant bride entering a marriage of convenience is also a major plot point of Love Comes Softly. Poor Marty is left widowed and pregnant shortly after starting a new life out West with her beloved husband. Trapped by the coming winter, she has no choice but to accept an impertinent offer from Clark, a widower who needs a (temporary) wife to care for his young daughter. Living on the frontier may be tougher than she expected, but will Marty succumb to the West’s rugged charms before spring? If romantic leads agonizing over never being able to love again is your jam, Love Comes Softly is a sweet treat.
6. The Luminaries, by Eleanor Catton
The Luminaries may not be a Christian novel, but its setting and some of its plot points are similar enough to Redeeming Love to deserve a mention here. It focuses on New Zealand’s own Gold Rush and Wild Frontier, when people from all over the world flocked to remote gold seams. Like Francine Rivers, Catton tackles the seedier side of the industry. Our heroine is a young woman forced into prostitution. Drug abuse and miscarriage are also themes. More importantly, the whole plot hinges on the mysterious death of a gold prospector and the resulting murder investigation, all driven by greed, lust, and gold-fever. That said, there’s a pair of star-crossed lovers at the heart of it all, so you won’t miss your romance fix.
7. The Golden Bride, by Kimberley Woodhouse
San Francisco and its grubby origins gets its time to (sort of) shine in this richly-detailed historical romance. Kimberley Woodhouse clearly put a lot of effort into her research, weaving real people and events into her tale of a widow falling for a budding political activist. The Golden Bride is a Christian Romance (with a capital “C”) full of Bible verses and proselytizing, so it might not be for everyone. Still, its slow-burn romance is swoon-worthy and it doesn’t attempt to whitewash San Francisco’s history. A major subplot revolves around the mistreatment of Chinese immigrant workers, for example, adding some interesting social commentary to the religious themes.
8. Thorn in My Heart, by Liz Curtis Higgs
Redeeming Love does a brilliant job of echoing a Biblical narrative while telling its own story, in its own time period. Thorn in My Heart manages to pull off the same trick, transporting the messy family drama of Jacob, Rachel and Leah to eighteenth century Scotland. There we meet Jamie and Evan McKie, both vying to inherit their father’s land. This conflict leads directly to Jamie’s fateful meeting with Leana and Rose McBride, sisters who both fall hard for the young rogue. If you know your Bible, you’ll know where this is going, but buckle up all the same. Like Angel, Jamie and the McBride sisters are morally grey characters who backstab, deceive, and cheat each other more than you would expect from protagonists in a Christian novel.
9. Under a Painted Sky, by Stacey Lee
In Stacey Lee’s hands, California’s wild frontier is an evocative backdrop for iron-willed young women forging their own paths. Except in this case, Under a Painted Sky is less a Christian Romance and more of a Coming of Age Western. It’s also a little more racially diverse as Samantha dreams of making it as a musician, despite anti-Chinese prejudice. Instead, she ends up fleeing town with Annamae, an escaped slave. Together they head for the Gold Rush disguised as boys and fall in with a group of cowboys. But will they be able to stay ahead of the law? Under a Painted Sky offers action, drama, crossdressing, romance, and (most importantly) a beautiful celebration of friendship.
10. Pearl in the Sand, by Tessa Afshar
Given that Pearl in the Sand is a novelization of the Biblical story of Rahab, its parallels with Redeeming Love are pretty clear. After all, Rahab is a sex worker from a “sinful” city who winds up marrying Salmone, a devout, morally upstanding man from a religious background. How this happens, and how they navigate their differences and build a life, is the backbone of the story. Since the Bible doesn’t have much to say about Rahab’s life post-Jericho, Tessa Afshar has free rein to get creative, which she does, crafting a story of faith and second chances. And there’s more where that came from, since she has made a career out of writing novels about underappreciated women in the Bible, like Ruth, Lydia, and Priscilla.