Into the Wilderness by Sara Donati
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
A brilliantly written masterpiece in every way! If you like historical fiction Into the Wilderness is a hallmark example of how to do it right. As a young man, the stories by James Fenimore Cooper captured my imagination, The Leatherstocking Tales: Deerslayer, Last of the Mohicans, The Pathfinder and more. They are set during the French and Indian War, in and around the New York frontier. The writing style can be a bit hard to get into since it is quite old, but the stories are excellent. Into the Wilderness starts a series of books by Sara Donati that follow the offspring of Hawkeye from the original stories and carries us through the decades following the war, through the War of 1812 up to the Battle of New Orleans. Donati has changed the surname of the family but the rest is true to the originals. However, the prose is light years beyond the originals.
This first installment sets the tone and introduces the characters. A well-educated young woman from England, Elizabeth Middleton, has been brought by her father to the small wilderness village on the western edge of the New York frontier, where Hawkeye lives with his extended family of Mohican Indians. His son, Nathanial Bonner is a prominent figure in the region, known for his hunting skill, and his wilderness prowess, which he inherited from his father. To call it a romance story would not be wrong, but it would short shrift the complexity and nuance of this story. It weaves unconventional love with the fate of the Mohawk. This book has everything you could ask for in a story: brilliant prose, colorful characters, exciting setting, intriguing plot, wild adventure, love, sex, betrayal and so much more. It touched me emotionally as I got invested in all the characters. All of them are complex and well-developed and each has their own voice and motives. It is a wonderful example of a character-driven story.
The person behind the pseudonym, Rosina Lippi, is a college professor in her other life and the historical aspects of this book are extraordinarily well-researched. I learned things about slavery and how women and people of color were treated in the era that were never covered in my history lessons.
I’m so glad my wife turned me on to Sara Donati. I’ve read and loved every book in the series and look forward to her next series. There is even a short crossover with Outlander, by Diana Gabaldon for fans of that series.
I listened to this on audiobook and the reading by Kate Reading (Jennifer Mendenhall) is amazing. This story and the ones that follow fell right into her wheelhouse, with many different accents and languages. Kate can do Scots, French and English with equal appeal. With this series, she has risen to be my favorite audiobook reader.
The stories that follow this are all fantastic, but this one is special and will remain one of my favorite novels of all-time.
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