Simpson (Whither Thou Goest, 2001, etc.) weaves a female-driven work of historical fiction focusing on the Bannock War of 1878 in the American Northwest.
The novel takes place as tensions between Native Americans and the U.S. Government (and the westward-moving whites) are reaching a breaking point. The story opens with the lone westward journey by Eva Beardsley, who is based on Simpson’s real-life ancestor. Along the way, Eva meets and falls hastily in love with Sgt. Jim Adams, and she begins to see the reality of the conflict around expansion. During his first meeting with Eva, Adams is nearly killed by the Native American prisoner he’s transporting. The speed and intensity of Eva and Sgt. Adam’s romance is jarring, but it is characteristic of the novel’s other relationships that grow so quickly there is an almost-melodramatic feel. From these connections, Simpson weaves an intriguing story of war, hunger, religious and racial division, loss and the difficulty of victory—an expansiveness befitting a historical novel. Eva meets Sarah Winnemucca, the granddaughter of the chief of the Paiute nation. The power of their partnership becomes the heart of the book. Readers first find Sarah wandering alone in the wilderness deserted by her own people and by whites. Out of her disillusionment, she harnesses the power of her education and spirit, working with white people to secure safety for her people. She and Eva also work alongside U.S. soldiers to bring down the aggressive chiefs of other Indian nations, creating a tentative, demoralized peace in the area. Simpson details the two major battles of the war: Silver Creek and Birch Creek. At times the action feels stiff, and the interspersed narration, back story and interior monologue can feel pedantic and intrusive. The book ends with a warm, reminiscent look at the friendship between Eva and Sarah and a glimpse at Sarah’s continued, heartfelt work to bring justice for her people.
Though in need of polishing, Simpson’s tale uses admirable characters to enmesh readers in a little-known piece of American history.