Some books have a tendency to reduce you to one word adjectives like ‘wow’ and ‘amazing’, but unfortunately that does not make for an interesting or helpful review, now does it? Another hitch in writing this review is that I struggle with description when books take on epic proportions too (we’re talking 875pp here). I don’t make that point to scare you away from giving this book a try because that would mean that you would miss out on a fantastic literary experience. It just means that I’m going to have to just hit the high points (or some of the high points since there are many).
The story is a historical romance with equal parts history and romance taking up the story. When I say history, I mean the adventurous kind not the stuffy sort. The book begins in Upstate New York shortly after the American colonists have won their independence. Those who supported England were driven north into Canada whether they were white (Tories and soldiers) or red (Native American). It is a time of transition and suspicion. A few seek to take advantage of these deep fears for their own gain. The Bonner family live at Lake in the Clouds up on Hidden Wolf Mountain on land that is owned by Judge Arthur Middleton. Middleton and several other families live at the base of the mountain in the village called Paradise. Middleton has split his land for his two children to inherit with Hidden Wolf Mountain being part of his daughter Elizabeth’s share. This act along with a few other weak and unwise decisions on the Judge’s part have set things in motion even before the arrival of Elizabeth and her brother from England.
Elizabeth has been reared genteelly on her aunt’s estate in England, but she is not what her father and the others imagined when they meet her. She is bookish and serious about her independence with no intentions of marrying. She is also determined about her desire to set up a school in her father’s village. Almost from the beginning of her arrival, she discovers that other plans have been made for her and everyone involved is mistaken if they imagine she is just going to go along with them. Elizabeth sets out to prove that she will not be dangled as a marital prospect for her dowry and she will have her school. She also upsets not just a few apple carts when she insists that every child no matter their color or background deserves an education.
The fire and courage of Elizabeth Middleton attracts the notice of frontiersman, Nathaniel Bonner. Nathaniel is a man who walks the fine edge between two worlds. He is equally comfortable living as a Mohawk or as a white man. He and his family act as protectors for the last of the Mohawk still living in the area and for those of his own family. Nathaniel and his family have a vested interest in Elizabeth’s inheritance because they live on the land and its all very complicated, but this is all set to the side when Nathaniel gets to know the astonishing Elizabeth who is not what he imagined her to be.
The story is a love story that is wrapped up in the ongoing plots of several who seek to take away what is rightfully Nathaniel and Elizabeth’s for their own purposes. Nathaniel and Elizabeth must go on the run and even fight everything from enemies, to the environment, to injuries to save everything they hold dear. All the while, as Elizabeth slowly learns Nathaniel’s past history, it is not certain that his past might not ultimately be what comes between them. Nathaniel knows this which is why he struggles to keep his past from her.
The plot of this book is incredibly complex and interwoven. The story is picked up by several character’s narrating throughout with Elizabeth and then Nathaniel being the primary tellers. For different reasons, there are not just a few people set on having the Bonner’s off Hidden Wolf Mountain and that seems to be the focal point of much of the plot. It was exciting to see how Nathaniel and Elizabeth and their friends worked to keep the land in Bonner hands. There were several breathtaking moments when I turned the pages rapidly to discover what would happen next.
This was quite the epic tale and as such it had a host of characters who all shared the spotlight with Nathaniel and Elizabeth. The book includes a list of characters and a map at the beginning which were very helpful though personally I had no trouble remembering who everyone was because they were drawn so well as individuals. I loved Curiosity, Axel and Robbie the best for their special personalities and how in their own ways they were the actual heroes of the story. The villains were so well drawn that it was not a simple matter of a cliched bad guy in a black hat twirling his mustache and cackling evilly. There were moments when I felt true sympathy or pity for a few of them, but then there were a couple of them that were just evil through and through.
I also enjoyed the slow to build love between Nathaniel and Elizabeth. They were interested in each other from first sight, but so much was between them from the difference in their background/class to other’s interference that it was a slow journey to complete happiness and love. The couple had to fight so hard to be together and it was a beautiful passionate love when they were together. These two were not afraid to enjoy intimacy and each other.
As to the historic background, it was superbly done. There were so many fascinating details of Early American life along with the details of the Mohawk way of life that were interspersed with the story so that it was never just a boring info dump.
I came across a pleasant surprise in this story that I must share. For those who adore Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series and have finished the most recent book, you will find that one scene in this book has a story about Nathaniel meeting up with Jamie, Claire and Ian.
So, I am whole-heartedly recommending this to those who love a strong epic historical romance that promises more in the rest of the books that come after it.