Fast-paced historical fiction about the battles that built the West.
Set in the latter half of the 1800s, Sheeran’s debut centers on the rich but tormented life of the endearing, and occasionally exasperating, heroine, Elizabeth Barclay (aka Timpanagos, â€œthe sleeping power that awakens”). Elizabeth is a talented pianist and composer whose birth to a powerful Washo Indian mother and upper-class white Nevadan father places her squarely on a cultural divide that, at the time, frequently threatened to erupt into violence. Through the lens of Elizabeth’s mixed heritage, Sheeran offers a thorough and thoughtful exploration of the two main stakeholders in the emerging West: the tribes who wish to preserve their land and self-sufficiency, and the white settlers intent on harvesting the region’s gold, silver and timber to feed a burgeoning western economy. But the heart of the story is Elizabeth’s identity struggle. While her white friends and relatives view her as being â€œ â€˜possessed of a genius, born by some torturous fate to a native woman, then well educated in the east,’ ” the Washo tribe claims her as both prophet and savior, as the seventh in an ancient line of powerful healers, â€œ â€˜the person who would cause the earth to turn.’ ” Elizabeth can only effect this prophesied societal healing if she abandons her place in white society and marries â€œthe blessed one,” the formidable warrior Masete, whom she finds irresistible. Sheeran’s histrionic portrayal of their star-crossed love borders on maudlin, and a didactic subplot–set in the present and involving a group of women experiencing bizarre visions of Elizabeth in her day–undercuts the engaging tale of personal growth and cultural conflict.
An interesting, if uneven, look at feminism and race relations on the American frontier.