It is very rare that debut novels reveal much mastery of craft, character, and story. But in rare instances, they do. Margaret Mitchell, with Gone with the Wind, created a masterpiece, which was unfortunately her only novel. Jean Auel's The Clan of the Cave Bear was another first novel that soared. Well, let me introduce you to one of the best new storytellers to come around since Diana Gabaldon.
Sara Donati is truly amazing.
She has with this, her first published novel, created a lush canvas of richly drawn characters and fascinating stories all in one great fictional world. I am so used to reading hyperbole about new fiction that I'm immune to most of it at this point. So I was pleasantly shocked as I read Into the Wilderness, turning page after page, trying to find a place where I could put it down, and found that I could not stop reading. Do not pass this book up. Do not let it get by you. Sara Donati is the real thing, and Into the Wilderness will no doubt become a popular classic.
In her acknowledgments, Donati thanks, among others, J. F. Cooper. The "J. F." stands for James Fenimore, and Donati is gracious to thank him. Into the Wilderness owes a delicious debt to the Leatherstocking tales of James Fenimore Cooper, and even those who haven't read him are sure to know the hit movie of a few years' back, "The Last of the Mohicans," based on his novel of the same name. There are echoes of this story within Into the Wilderness, but they serve more as reference points than anything else. Donati has created a wholly original tale, using the background of 18th-century North America and the mingling of Mohawk and Six Nations culture with the growing pioneer culture of the post-Revolutionary War.
I cannot recommend this book to you highly enough. There are a lot of wonderfully romantic novels out there, but this one goes beyond most. It is a startling story, one that moves smoothly and manages to create a world for the reader to fall in love with and take to the heart. But I'm sure you want to hear more about it, so here goes:
Elizabeth Middleton never considered herself an outsider until she left her secure existence in England for the wilds of America. It's the winter of 1792, and she did not know real cold until she arrived in the forests of upstate New York, where her father owns an immense property called Paradise.
She has come to teach all the children of the area, but upon her arrival she finds several roadblocks to this goal, not the least of which is that her father has not really prepared the way. Instead he has been trying to arrange a sensible marriage between Elizabeth and Richard Todd, a well-to-do doctor. Elizabeth learns why: Her brother Julian not only lost their dead mother's inheritance to Todd in gambling but even cut into his father's money with his debts. Now their father is cash-poor. A good marriage for his daughter would not only make the old man happy but also ensure that a wiser man than Julian would be at the helm of the vast estate their father has spent his life building.
Elizabeth is horrified at her father's scheming, even while she understands the dilemma. She's ready to bolt back to England. But the sparks fly when Elizabeth meets Nathaniel Bonner, the white son of Hawkeye, who in turn is the son of Chingachgook. Those familiar with James Fenimore Cooper's stories will recognize a bit of this lineage. Nathaniel is white in skin only. He is wholly Native American. He and his family, which includes a young daughter by a wife who died in childbirth, survive by the good graces of Elizabeth's father. But they seek to somehow purchase the mountain they occupy from him in order to allow the area to maintain some kind of permanent dignity.
Elizabeth is the only white person in the area to appreciate the humanity of the local Indians. The white families all around her fear them, and have created myths about them. Someone has even gone so far as to steal from Nathaniel and his relatives so that they have been destitute during the long winters. As her respect and admiration for Nathaniel Bonner grow, so does their love for each other. But within the very community in which Elizabeth lives, something far greater threatens their future happiness.
No synopsis of this story will do it justice. It is all too rare that a first novel leaps into the imagination as quickly as does Into the Wilderness. The author's ability to create both romantic sparks and historical depth around a fascinating epic story is masterful, to say the least. Miss this at your own risk.
--Jessi Rose Lucas
Jessi Rose Lucas's first romance novel, The Swan Prince, is forthcoming. She lives on the New England coast and is currently working on her second novel, The Tarnished Knight, a medieval romance about Lancelot and Guinevere.
Elizabeth Middleton is a 29-year-old spinster who leaves England in 1792 with her brother Julian to join their father, a judge with significant land holdings in upper New York State. She plans to establish a school where she can teach the children in the village of Paradise, but has not counted on the sexy, diverting presence of Nathaniel Bonner, a white man raised as a member of the Mohawk tribe. The attraction is immediate and mutual, and the two quickly become involved in a steamy affair. Elizabeth must take great pains to keep their romance hidden from the narrow-minded villagers and from her father, who wants her to marry the local doctor, Richard Todd (Todd's ample funds could help pay off the judge's many debts).
When she defies her father and elopes with Nathaniel, her family and the village are horrified. The lovers disappear into the woods, where Todd tracks them ruthlessly. When Nathaniel is wounded by an accidental gunshot, Elizabeth travels solo for days to seek aid for her now-husband. Along the way, she's captured and nearly killed by the evil Jack Lingo, who is pursuing long-lost Tory gold that he believes Nathaniel has hidden away. When she and Nathaniel finally return to Paradise, it's only to face the hamlet's ingrained bigotry. Exemplary historical fiction, boasting a heroine with a real and tangible presence.
"My favorite kind of book is the sort you live in, rather than read. Into the Wilderness is one of those rare stories that let you breathe the air of another time, and leave your footprints on the snow of a wild, strange place. I can think of no better adventure than to explore the wilderness in the company of such engaging and independent lovers as Elizabeth and her Nathaniel."—Diana Gabaldon
"Each time you open a book you hope to discover a story that will make your spirit of adventure and romance sing. This book delivers on that promise."—Amanda Quick
“A beautiful tale of both romance and survival…Here is the beauty as well as the savagery of the wilderness and, at the core of it all, the compelling story of the love of a man and a woman, both for the untamed land and for one another.” —Allan W. Eckert
“Lushly written…Exemplary historical fiction.” —Kirkus Reviews
“Epic in scope, emotionally intense.” —BookPage