A debut historical novel captures the international turmoil following the Napoleonic Wars.
Susan Anderson was raised in London to be a genteel woman at ease among cosmopolitan sophisticates, but she is eventually struck by a sense of adventure. She travels to the hinterlands of northern Canada in the late 1830s with her widowed father, Rev. Thomas Anderson, who ventures there to make his missionary rounds. The two stay in a lumber camp established in an unforgivingly rustic environment, and Susan’s beauty unsettles the men, unused to such company. A drunken ruffian, Henri Lalond, assaults her one night, and she is saved by Dan Little Deer, who kills the attacker and flees. The relationship between the lumber company and the indigenous population is a delicate one, and the trial of Dan for murder could be potentially explosive. Susan also contends with complex romantic opportunities; a man close to her father’s age proposes to her and offers to whisk her away to the tropical climes of Jamaica. Then she starts to fall in love with the camp manager, John McIver. Meanwhile, her father is badly injured and grows dangerously ill. A journalist, Holt-Johnstone has produced a historically astute novel, capturing the collision of native North American culture and European exploration in the 1800s. The plot unfolds briskly, and the author artfully constructs an atmosphere of dangerous expectancy. Sometimes the dialogue can be wooden and halting, even for the mid-19th century. At one point, John asserts: “If it were not for the simple skills I learned as a child watching my father in his practice at Annandale, and the use of herbs the Indians gather here in the forest, mortality among my men would be much greater.” But the author does an admirable job developing Susan’s character; she’s both callow and precociously wise. In some ways, she represents the spirit of the age, hopefully adventurous but a touch naïve. It seems bizarre that her father brought her to Canada in the first place—he informs no one at the camp in advance of his trip that she’s accompanying him, and he should know he’s possibly putting her in harm’s way. But despite its flaws, this book remains an entertaining and well-researched work.
A dramatic, historically illuminating soap opera about a woman’s adventures in a Canadian lumber camp.