Book Review: Ned Franks series, A.L.O.E.

The Ned Franks series written by A.L.O.E. (Charlotte Maria Tucker) is truly a treasure to read and learn from!

In Ned Franks, The One-Armed Sailor, we are introduced to the main character, Ned Franks, an honest, cheerful, and hardworking Christian sailor. Franks returns home as a young man, maimed in one arm and looking for work in the little village of Colme. He lives with his unhappy and unthankful sister Bessy and her willful son Dan, who both give him many opportunities with which to train and strengthen his character, particularly the traits of patience, kindness, and steadfastness.

The young sailor’s new life is filled with worries, temptations, and troubling circumstances that challenge his faith–a dear pet’s cruel, untimely death; his niece Norah, who struggles with living out the Christian faith, and her wayward friend; a bitter, stubborn Jew who refuses to accept Christ as his Savior and Master; and the disappearance of a young, motherless boy. In this midst of all this, Ned Franks meets and falls in love with gentle, meek Persis, who has a smile and a kind word for all, and joyfully lays down her own ambitions and dreams in the service of the village children and her old grandfather.

Sheer Off, the second book in the series, picks up the story of Ned Franks as he strives to honor Christ and do good in the village of Colme. He is now the schoolmaster, a well-beloved friend and teacher to the local youngsters. His first-born son, little Ned, is the apple of his and his wife Persis’ eye. As a respected and trusted Christian gentleman in his community and as an observant, thoughtful citizen, he is often called on for assistance, whether it is to save a drunken woman from certain death at the risk of his own life, or to ask for funds for the failing almshouses from the most tightfisted and wealthiest man in the village, or to help build those same poorhouses with his one good arm and a hook.

The presence and evil influence of a godless, arrogant baronet threatens to destroy Franks’ efforts to guide children in the Word of God and his labors in erecting happy, healthy living spaces for the poor. Mystery and intrigue, involving an inheritance, a blind girl in a large city, and a sailor struggling with duty and pleasure come near the end of the novel to weave the loose ends of an exciting and edifying book to a satisfying conclusion.

Franks must deal with the many pitfalls the world, the flesh, and the devil lures us all into—greed, intemperance, falsehood, and pride in its various manifestations, to name a few. The sailor exhorts all to sheer off those treacherous, rocky shores and cling to Christ.

The third book in the Ned Franks series, The Silver Keys traces the struggles, failings, and victories of Nancy Sands, wife to the clerk of the village of Colme and friend to the Franks. Having lost an arm in a terrible accident, Mrs. Sands is grateful to be allowed to work as the keeper and cleaning lady of the church. But one day, something terrible happens which threatens to blacken her newly restored reputation and drive her back to the bottle. A tiny coin is lost; different keys lead to more than simply unlocked drawers and boxes; and strong-willed, passionate, and proud Mrs. Sands suffers injustice, slander, and more. And still the plot thickens, involving a gossiping, jealous neighbor; a worse-than-fatherless little girl and her paralyzed grandfather; and a clerk whose deep love and faith in his imperfect wife is sorely tried and tested. Through it all, Nancy Sands comes to a greater understanding of what sanctification means, and learns to be grateful for the trials and tribulations that so often come in life to purify and refine our hearts.

Throughout each of the three novels, Ned Franks shares insights, reproofs, and encouragements from the Scriptures using scenes and descriptions of ships and seas, which he loves so dearly. Here is a sampling of such wonderful and eye-opening “speeches” Franks gives, taken from Ned Franks, The One-Armed Sailor:

“Well,” said Bessy, as she laid out some linen to iron, “I for one will never believe that the great God above ever notices such little matters as these you speak of.”

“Maybe you’d have thought it a little matter for Eve to pluck a fruit, but ‘twas a matter that let in death and misery into a world,” said Ned. “The skipper of the first craft as ever I sailed in thought it a little matter when, one evening, our vessel just touched on a rock, as he fancied; he smoked his pipe, drank his grog, and turned into his cabin, and never dreamed of the small leak down below, till he was wakened in the morning with the cry of “Three feet water in the hold!’ The vessel was as nigh lost as could be, with all the hands on board. And ‘tis so with our souls, Bessy Peele. The little sins, as we call them, are the little leaks in the timber, and if one goes to the bottom, ‘tis all the same, whether the water came in by a big hole or a small one.”

* * * *

“And it is a sham, nothing but a sham,” exclaimed Ned, walking on again, and faster than before, “for man, woman, or child to set up Christian profession, when they care nothing for Christian practice; to hang out, as it were, the flag of the Cross, while self-will steers where Satan directs, and they’re bearing right on for the rock of destruction. Think you that a real Christian would willingly hold parley with any sin, far less welcome it upon deck? No, it is his enemy, his Saviour’s enemy, which he must resist to the death. If it tries to board, as ‘tis always trying, he must yield it not a foot, not an inch; he must hurl it over the bulwarks, throw it into the sea, give no quarter to sin, in the name and in the strength of the Great Captain of his salvation!” Ned’s tone was raised, his eyes flashed, and he instinctively clenched his hand as thus, in figurative language, he described the Christian’s secret struggle against sin. Norah felt roused and animated, though she hardly realised the full meaning of what the sailor had said.

All three books in the Ned Franks series contain edifying and entertaining accounts of Franks’ encounters with the storms of life, which he braves with dignity, good humor, and steadfast faith in the God of Truth. And as readers, we are challenged to do the same!

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