Dearer Than Life is a 265-page historical fiction paperback. The story, originally published by Emma Leslie in 1884, is a fictionalized account of a family living in England in the late 1360s, the times of John Wycliffe.
The story is about two sons of a wealthy Englishman. One of the sons becomes one of Wycliffe's "poor priests," and another of the sons becomes an attendant in the court of the powerful Duke of Lancaster. The story shows how the entire family (father, sons, their wives), even though divided by professions and governmental loyalties, choose to follow God's truth, and inevitably end up siding with Wycliffe, because he represents God's truth. Throughout the book, you get a feel for the religious upheaval of the times, and some of the dangers and persecutions that were lurking and would soon come to pass.
I found the story a bit of a disappointment. It was quite dull and the writing a bit lackluster. I expected that a fictionalized story from the times of Wycliffe would be much more intriguing and captivating. It was a very exciting time for England as the power of the church struggled against the powers of nobility. Tensions ran high as those who began to question the church's authority and teachings (such as the priests' abilities to grant pardons for sins) caused great distress among faithful Christians and the common people. The best parts of the story (and what kept me reading) were the inspirational snippets here and there: quotes from Wycliffe's writings and teachings, and quotes from the characters as they expressed their convictions. I truly enjoyed these little gems, but these were few and far between.
The book has some merit in its included historical facts and details. A timeline and a list of key historical figures (and their descriptions) are included at the beginning of the book (Thomas Becket, Edward III, The Black Prince, John of Gaunt, Richard II, Wat the Tyler, and more). The small details of the towns, buildings, and people, and descriptions of everyday life seem to be researched to some extent.
I visited the publisher's website and learned that Salem Ridge re-publishes books from the 1800s/early 1900s, with a mission to republish books that are "wholesome, well-written, and interesting." The story was wholesome in that it was not degrading spiritually, but it was certainly not "filling" spiritually. It was not that well-written, as it was not very captivating, inspiring, or interesting. One thing I did enjoy with this book is the inclusion of definitions at the bottom of each page for unfamiliar old-fashioned terms, such as hucksters,
ensconced, bastions, pestilent, spurious, colloquy, and many, many more (several hundred in this book alone). This is a GREAT vocabulary-building feature for your homeschooling student!
Now that said, I have only read this one book by Salem Ridge Press. Based on the descriptions of books on their website, I would certainly like to try more! I know all too well the difficulty in finding quality Christian books for my children, and Salem Ridge Press seems to be a very promising resource. I have read many books of this type of "republished" work and prefer these books to all others as reading material for my children. Although this book was not quite the quality of story we are used to from this type of republished work, I will most likely obtain more of these books. I appreciate the work of companies like Salem Ridge Press who do understand the importance of providing our children with quality reading material, and am thankful for their efforts to find the old stories and make them available. Although I don't highly recommend this particular book, I do recommend visiting the Salem Ridge website and looking at their titles. I believe their books would be worth a try.