Sunday, June 20, 2010

Book Review: Fire Along the Sky

So, it's pretty obvious from my recent posts that I'm charging through Sara Donati's Wilderness series. It was a slow start, but things really got moving in Lake in the Clouds. And I'm happy to report that Fire Along the Sky is my favor of the series thus far.

Here's a quick synopsis: the whole series centers around Elizabeth Middleton Bonner, a late 18th century Englishwoman who was raised by her aunt in England. When she's in her late 20s she moves to Paradise, New York, a small town founded by her father, the local judge. Her father intends her to marry Richard Todd, the local doctor, but she falls for woodsman Nathanial Bonner instead. Nathanial is the son of Hawkeye and Cora (basically like Last of the Mohicans). Hawkeye was raised Mohawk, so Nathanial kind of was, too. His first wife was Mohawk, and they had a daughter, Hannah, before his wife died. Into the Wilderness centers around Elizabeth's marriage to Nathanial, through which they save the Bonner's home, Lake in the Clouds, from Richard Todd's clutches. At the end of that book, the family learns that Hawkeye's birth father was the brother of a Scottish earl. That connection brings the family to Scotland shortly after Elizabeth gives birth to her twins, Daniel and Lily, all of which takes place in Dawn on a Distant Shore. In that book we learn that Nathanial has a son, Luke, that he never knew about from a short relationship he had when he was only about 17 or 18. Luke ends up staying in Scotland with the family there. Lake in the Clouds picks up eight years later, and mostly centers on hijinks that take place in Paradise. Hannah is now 18, and Richard Todd has been mentoring her as a physician. He sends her to Manhattan to study smallpox vaccinations so she can come home to vaccinate the people in Paradise. I hesitate to say more because I don't want to give stuff away.

Fire Along the Sky picks up about ten years after Lake in the Clouds ended. Elizabeth and Nathanial have another son, Gabriel, and the twins are now 18. Lily is desperate to leave Paradise to study art somewhere, but mostly she wants to leave because she's fallen in love with a married farmer in Paradise. Daniel is eager to join the American forces against the British in the War of 1812. Luke has been back from Scotland for a number of years, and he left because he was in love with the earl's daughter, Jennet, who was forced to marry a man she didn't love. (Jennet and Hannah became good friends as girls in Dawn on a Distant Shore. Once Jennet's husband dies, she sets off for Montreal (and Luke), and Luke brings her to Paradise. I forget why. Anyway, Lily goes back to Montreal with her half-brother, and Daniel joins the war. Hannah has returned to Paradise, but she is wrestling with inner demons.

The most enjoyable parts of the book, for me, were about Lily. What I love about Sara Donati is that she's unpredictable; you don't know what is going to happen. Even when it comes to the romances in the series, you don't really know who is going to end up with who. I've been wrong a number of times. I like that she allows her characters to fall in love more than once in their lifetimes, because it feels really realistic, especially when they make mistakes. Lily's love life came as a surprise, but a pleasant one. I really liked it. Also, she's not afraid to let the villains win a few. There is one Paradise woman, Jemima Southern, who causes trouble in Lake in the Clouds and in this book. It's maddening for someone who is used to the good guys always winning, but at the same time, it makes things more believable and more interesting.

Luke and Jennet's relationship is enjoyable, too, but it's less of a focus in the book. Hannah's medical practice is really emphasized, but that's okay, because I like Hannah, even though it is sad to see the change in her from when she was a girl. (She's been through a lot.)

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