In this work of historical fiction set in the Midwest during the Civil War, Sioux warriors seize a woman and her children.
Sarah Wakefield lives in southern Minnesota in Sioux territory—her husband, John, is a government-appointed doctor assigned to the reservation. The regular annuity paid to the Sioux is yet again delayed, and already strained relations between them and their often cruel white counterparts become even more acrimonious. Finally, when it becomes clear an outburst of violence is imminent, John sends Sarah and her two young children away, but her escort is murdered and she is captured by two Sioux fighters. One of them, Hapa, is eager to kill her, but his brother-in-law, Chaska, protects Sarah from harm and vows to remain her faithful guardian. While in captivity, Sarah is in constant danger, but Chaska and his mother, Ina, vigilantly watch over her, help her blend in, and hide her when necessary. She even flirts with the possibility of becoming one of them: “If I knew I would never be rescued, I think I could be content among the Sioux. Ina has become like a mother to me—certainly, a better mother than the one I left in Rhode Island. And Chaska is one of the most honorable men I have ever known.” When finally rescued, she has to save Chaska’s life by testifying to his admirable behavior and repair her own tattered reputation as a sympathizer and traitor. Chatlien (The Ambitious Madame Bonaparte, 2013) writes with nuanced sensitivity, nimbly cataloging the horrors each side visits upon the other. Even Sarah’s marriage is depicted without yielding to facile simplicity—her husband can be sweet and chivalrous but also petty and cold. In a few spots, the author seems tempted by the desire to impart a didactic lesson—there is good and bad among all kinds—but resists even these minor concessions to moralistic judgment. In addition, Chatlien’s mastery of the historical period—especially the life and culture of the Sioux—is notable and creates a fictional atmosphere of authenticity.
A subtle dramatization of the conflict between white settlers and Native Americans in the 19th century.