Title: "Into the Wilderness”
Author: Sara Donati
Genre(s): historical fiction, historical romance
Part of a Series: Yes, 1st book
Why I read it: When I got out of college, I had time for leisure reading. So I searched for historical fiction and this one appealed to me.
Summary: In the early days of the United States, Elizabeth Middleton and her brother Julian travel from their aunt’s home in England to join their father in Paradise, NY. Elizabeth is considered a spinster and has embraced it. She plans on opening a school in Paradise, using land her father has promised her. But when she arrives in Paradise, she encounters complications. Her father owns land two men want: Dr.Richard Todd and Nathaniel Bonner. While her father wishes for Elizabeth to marry Richard, she is drawn to Nathaniel. Raised in the ways of the Mohawk people, Nathaniel is unlike any man Elizabeth has met. The two fall in love and elope, earning Richard’s rage. He pursues them into the New York wilderness where they have to rely on each other to survive.
Review: I love this book. Let me get that out in the open. I know Sara Donati was influenced by Diana Gabaldon but I love her writing more than Gabaldon’s. I feel Donati does better at mixing the history and romance than Gabaldon, but then again Donati readily admits she writes historical romance. Ms. Gabaldon seems to recoil from using the term “romance” at all.
Fantasy readers are used to the idea of “world-building” but it is an important skill for all writers to have. Donati is an example of world-building in historical fiction. Paradise is a fictional town surrounded by real places—New York. Yet it still feels real to the reader. The people, the places, the dynamics—everything is well-done. Even once Nathaniel and Elizabeth go on the run and leave Paradise, the New York wilderness comes alive through Donati’s words.
Her characters, though, are who grab you. Elizabeth is a fascinating heroine. She is one who knows what she wants—to become a teacher—and is resolved not to let anyone or anything get in her way. My only quibble with her is that she comes off as too modern some times. Yes, there were abolitionists this early in American history and feminism didn’t came from nowhere. But Elizabeth seems so gung-ho and expects everyone to just accept her vision, it’s a bit off-putting. Especially later in the series when she encounters people with mindsets appropriate to the time period but it becomes clear we are supposed to see these people as fools.
Nathaniel is an intriguing character. Tall, dark and silent, he is a strong man. And a play on the old archetype of the Noble Savage. What is the Noble Savage, you ask? It dates from the 19th century and the Romance movement. The idea was that the savage—like Native Americans—were not the same as white people. That they could not be heroes like white people. But the Noble Savage was the closest they could come. He is a man who has virtues white people value: love of family, the desire to protect those he loves, etc. Of course, nowadays, it just makes him exotic. The type of man women wish would come and sweep them away.
Richard Todd is the type of villain I like—one with shades of gray. Almost what I believe Diana Gabaldon was aiming for with Black Jack yet didn’t quite achieve. He poses a threat and haunts our heroes even when not physically present. But there are reasons for his actions which make the audience feel sympathy for him. And his journey is just as interesting as Nathaniel’s and Elizabeth’s.
Donati populates her book with several secondary characters. For this book, the main two to focus on are Julian and Kitty. Kitty has plans to marry Richard before he makes a play for the Middleton land by offering to marry Elizabeth. But she then falls for Julian, who doesn’t seem to be the settling down type. He’s a partier who fancies another woman he can’t have. Their relationship is tragic but both grow by the end of the book.
Bottom line: A great book for someone who loves American history and romance.
Sex: There are a few sex scenes in the book but I feel they are more organic to the story and do not slow the pace.
What type of villains do you prefer? Black and white or shades of gray?