Elizabeth Camden. Until the Dawn. Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2015. See here to buy the book.
Until the Dawn is set in the late nineteenth century. The
mansion of Dierenpark is a tourist attraction in the Hudson River
Valley. Dierenpark is owned and was long inhabited by the Vandermarks.
Locals have long heard stories about the Vandermarks and Dierenpark.
They know the story about how two brothers, Caleb and Adrien
Vandermark, came from Holland and established a prosperous shipping
business. Adrien was fair in his dealings with the Native Americans
(unlike many white people who dealt with them) but was supposedly killed
by them. Caleb’s descendant Karl was a pillar of the community who was
admired for working with the locals at the mill, in spite of his wealth
and status. Karl committed suicide. Or was it a suicide? Many,
including the elderly Nickolaas Vandermaark (who is Karl’s son), believe
that Dierenpark is cursed and want it destroyed. Nickolaas also
believes that there are unusual natural (or supernatural) properties at
Dierenpark: lilies grow where they are not supposed to grow, and
crocuses bloom more often than they are supposed to bloom.
One of the locals of the community, the twenty-something and
attractive Sophie van Rijn, has long loved Dierenpark, and she set up a
weather station on its roof as part of her volunteer work for the
Weather Bureau. That work gives her meaning in life because it is
useful and helps others. Conflict emerges, however, when the first
Vandermark to set foot on Dierenpark in sixty years shows up. Quentin
Vandermark is Nickolaas’ grandson. Quentin is an architect because he
does not want to be one of the “idle rich.” He is melancholic and walks
with a cane because he broke his leg years before and could not reset
it properly. He is a widower and is accompanied by his young son,
Quentin is initially outraged that Sophie set up a weather site on
his roof without permission, but he lets her continue her work because
he is committed to science. Quentin is an atheist. Part of the reason
for his atheism is that he prefers to stick with what he can see and
understand rationally, and part of the reason is that he was burned out
with religion because his grandfather Nickolaas continually dragged him
on journeys to sample various religions and spiritualities. Sophie, in
contrast with Quentin, is a devout Christian. Quentin admires Sophie’s
winsomeness, but he thinks that she is naive about the ways of the
There were many passages in this book that I liked. My favorite
plot-element is when Sophie is trying to get the Weather Bureau to set
up an actual station in her community, and she hopes to work there for
money. While many mock her dream, Quentin actually takes her seriously
and challenges her to write a scientific and well-researched proposal
about why the station should be set up in that town. After Sophie
overhears a Weather Bureau representative diminish her knowledge and
abilities to Quentin, Quentin tries to encourage her by telling her
about some of the rejection that he has experienced as an architect. He
also tells her about how she has made a difference.
In terms of the prose and story, Until the Dawn is not as
simple or shallow as a number of other Christian fiction books.
Characters are not always as they seem. The ending was happy, but not
all of the characters get what they want, at least not entirely. The
book has lots of stories: about the mysterious Vandermark history, and
Quentin’s previous marriage. Nickolaas at the end of the book responds
to Christianity in an endearing (and not necessarily evangelical) way.
Just when the reader thinks that an element of the plot has been
resolved, something unexpected comes out of the woodwork. The
characters are dealing with disappointments, hurts, and flaws, and that
makes for a good story. The book could have been more complex, and it
did have typical elements of Christian fiction: a Christian saves
someone, who feels aimless and depressed because of the lack of God in
his or her life. Still, this book was an enjoyable read because of the
wise things that Sophie and Quentin said, the interaction with various
worldviews, the characters, and the mystery.
I felt comfortable reading this book, and I would like to read more of Elizabeth Camden’s novels.
I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.
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