RUNNING WEST by James Houston


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By the author of Eagle Song (1983) and other tales of the Canadian North, a vigorous, supple, altogether involving wilderness adventure: a retelling of a true story about a young Scots Highlander who, in 1714, was forced to serve in a Hudson Bay Company's trading settlement in America. He will eventually live, travel with, and love the ""Copper Woman"" of the DÉnÉ Nation, who here shares the narration. Young William Stewart, exiled from the Highlands because of an unwise feat of arms, and indentured to the Hudson Bay Company because of another nasty trick of fate, arrives with the company to a fort west of Hudson Bay. Then, thanks to a treaty, a scraggly group of sea-weakened British take over the rotting ""York Factory"" fort from the celebrating French; and Stewart, who'd been educated with a laird's son, acts as clerk for the governor. Meanwhile, the DÉnÉ woman Thanadelthur has survived a massacre of her people, only to be tormented by a crazed Wood Cat hunter, and Finally to escape. The half-dead Thana is brought into camp by the Britishers' Cree allies. The friendship of Thana and William in the fort (the ""house of spears"") grows with the knowledge of each other's language and ripens to love. There follow a long catastrophe-wracked trek to locate the ""yellow pebbles"" in DÉnÉ territory (a lust for gold fueled by the governor but shared by William); feasts, famines, feuds, and near separation (Thana's rival is the English ship--long-awaited--at anchor) before union in death. Houston's action narrative is bright, lively, and uncluttered by obtrusive research, and his delightful illustrations reflect his buoyant interest in the period and a firm knowledge. In all: a fine, sturdy, fresh-air period adventure. (Old-timers who fondly remember the Northwest novels of Kenneth Roberts might especially like this.) A possible YA.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1990
Publisher: Crown