After eight fine westerns detailing the exploits of Barnaby Skye as a mountain man during the 1850s and '60s, old pro Wheeler (Sierra, 1996, etc.) fills in the blanks in his colorful protagonist's background--beginning in 1826, when the frontiersman- to-be arrived in North America, through his backwoods apprenticeship in the Rockies. Shanghaied by a press gang off the streets of London at age 14, Skye spends 7 years aboard a Royal Navy frigate before he's able to jump ship at Fort Vancouver. Evading both the British sailors and Hudson's Bay Co. minions directed to bring him back alive, the seaman makes his way to the Columbia River basin. Once slated to attend Cambridge like his merchant father, young Skye hopes to reach Boston, enter Harvard, and secure the education that will ensure him his birthright. Along his wayward way, however, he falls in with friendly Shoshone Indians who conduct him to a so- called Rendezvous, an annual trappers' fair in the Cache Valley, safely outside Canadian jurisdiction. While at this hinterland jamboree, Skye wins the respect of such high-country legends as Jim Bridger and Jebediah Smith; he also encounters Many Quill Woman, the Crow lass who will soon become his wife. Still bent on reaching the New World's Cambridge, Skye then sets out on his own for St. Louis. Soon relieved of his horses and kit by marauding Blackfeet, he has little time to link up with a crew of freelance nimrods before hard snows hit the mountains. After further adventures, he joins forces with his new associates in the Yellowstone area, helps make the beaver trapping season a financial success, and winters with the Crows. Eventually finding the call of the wild a whole lot stronger than the lure of the classroom, Sky marries his dusky maiden and, come spring, sets out with his westering comrades on another hunt. A promising start in what appears to be an absorbing, authoritative series.