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Saturday, January 15, 2011

It's a Twofer!

Bonus Day!
We have a double review today. I recently read two historical fiction/adventure novels for our genre book group, so I’m reviewing them as a pair.

So Wild a Dream
Win Blevins
Forge, 2004

An ambitious and daring young man, Sam Morgan leaves his home in 1820s Pennsylvania to seek adventure and a fortune in the frontier west, accompanied by a colorful assortment of companions he meets along the way.

This is the first in the Rendezvous Novels series. If I didn’t have a pile of books to read (yes, I always seem to have a pile of books to read), I would pick up the next one in the series because this was pretty good. It starts a little slow as the author builds the saga. Will is a likeable young man searching for his own way in the world after his father died. He wants adventure, and true to form, he finds it when he hires on as a riverboat crewman. His job is to hunt for food along the route in order to feed the men aboard the boat. When the trip is over, he latches onto an expedition of explorers and mountain men going west to trap beaver pelts, but he becomes separated from the group and must survive on his own. This is where the story gets really good, but then, I’m a sucker for a good survivor story. It’s no secret that Will somehow survives on his own, since he is featured in the next book in the series, but he learns a great deal about himself and the characters of others along the way. Once the plot builds tension, the story becomes faster paced and more compelling than the beginning half was. Will is young and impressionable, but not very interesting as a person. It’s not until he’s on his own that his true character starts to be revealed, which makes him more developed as a man AND as a character.



Richard S. Wheeler
Forge, 2010

John Charles Fremont was many things: an explorer, a territorial governor, a husband and father, and a major-general in the U.S. Army. He was gifted in leading men, whether it was into battle against the Indians or into the snow-covered mountains of Colorado. Somehow, his quiet strength and self-confidence was enough to persuade even the most doubtful man that an expedition along the 38th Parallel from St. Louis to San Francisco,in the middle of winter was a logical and reasonable thing to do.

Based on a true story, this biographical novel is fascinating. As I wrote above, I love survival stories, especially those involving people being stranded in snow or ice. Maybe it’s because I live in Arizona (which has plenty of snow and ice, by the way), but I really enjoy reading about groups of desperate people faced with seemingly insurmountable obstacles, like being stuck in many feet of snow with no food or shelter or even a sunny day to keep themselves warm and dry. I think I am curious about how people respond in difficult circumstances. Do they turn on each other or work together? Do they figure out ingenious ways to survive or are they just plain lucky? Or perhaps they must do the unthinkable and draw straws for the ultimate horror? (I also like shipwreck stories. Yes, maybe I’m a little weird.)

This book did not disappoint me, and in many ways, I enjoyed it far more than the first one. Told in alternating chapters by different characters, Snowbound relates the story of a slightly deranged man who planned a doomed excursion in which men and animals would needlessly die. Each character attempts to explain why they joined this crazy man and why they continued to stick with him even though every day got worse and worse as they crossed the mountains. Yet John Fremont, who also narrates several chapters, is convinced that he knows what he is doing. He explains his philosophy of leadership and character, sure than anyone who doesn’t survive this trip will die because of his own failings and not because John Fremont has led then astray. I had a hard time putting this book down; even though history tells us how the story ends, I needed to know how Fremont would (fictionally) justify his actions and the expedition’s outcome.


Other novels you may enjoy:
The Last Crossing by Guy Vanderhaeghe (2002)
Ordered by their father to find their missing brother, Englishmen Charles and Addington Gaunt set off to America, where guide Jerry Potts and a growing number of companions journey by wagon train and confront a number of personal demons.

Into the Wilderness by Sara Donati (1998)
Weaving a vibrant tapestry of fact and fiction, Into the Wilderness sweeps us into another time and place ... and into the heart of a forbidden, incandescent affair between a spinster Englishwoman and an American frontiersman. Here is an epic of romance and history that will captivate readers from the very first page. First in the series.

Voyage of the Narwhal by Andrea Barrett (1998)
Part adventure, part love story, this unforgettable novel captures a crucial moment in the history of exploration. Combining fact and fiction, the story focuses on Erasmus Darwin Wells, a 19th-century scholar/naturalist and his expedition to search for an open polar sea.

1 comment:

  1. I love reading about Fremont. I just reserved this book. Thanks!