Wishes on Water
Many of the romances I read – historical and otherwise – tend to be driven by character rather than plot. I love being able to get inside the heads of great characters and experience their lives along with them, but sometimes the detailed action and emphasis on external forces found in plot-driven stories perfectly fit the bill. Though it has its flaws, Wishes on Water is a well-researched, plot-driven historical that both introduces readers to likable characters and provides a picture of a rather traumatic period in American history.
This novel is set around Lake Okoboji, Iowa. As it opens, young widow Sadie Pritchard has been abandoned by her wagon train due to her son’s case of smallpox. The family is discovered by local settlers in the area who offer to shelter them in the empty home of a neighbor attending to affairs in St. Louis. Sadie gratefully sets up housekeeping in the small cabin and works at nursing her son back to health.
As her son begins to regain his strength, cabin owner Sam MacAllister returns earlier than expected. Even though the rather taciturn Sam didn’t expect to find a family of strays in his house and is understandably annoyed with the situation, he agrees to stay in the barn in order to give Sadie some time to make arrangements to move on. Needless to say, Sam begins to grow more accustomed to Sadie and her children and decides that moving the Pritchards away from Lake Okoboji might not be such a good idea after all.
The romance between Sadie and Sam is very sweet and, while there isn’t a lot of emotional conflict or internal dialogue, there are plenty of external factors affecting much of what happens between them. The area in which Sam and Sadie live is an area of fairly new settlement. The Sioux, displaced from this area, are starving and their desperate situation creates conflict between the tribe and the white settlers in the area. Much of Sam and Sadie’s relationship is affected by this and Ms. George does a good job of working this history smoothly into their story. It is obvious that this author did her research, and I appreciated learning more about a time and place largely unfamiliar to me.
However, while I appreciated the skillful working of historical background into the novel, this book really should be about 50 pages longer. So much happens to Sam and Sadie that I wanted to be shown a little more of their lives. It is not hard to believe that Sam and Sadie love each other, but it would have been nice to see more of their courtship and of their thoughts for each other. Ms. George tries to strike a balance between the internal and the external, but as the book moves along it sometimes falls a little out of balance. This is especially true near the end as historical events really heat up and I found myself wishing I could see more about how both Sadie and Sam reacted to the changes wrought in their lives. Some of the events covered in this book are quite harrowing and I needed a little more reassurance that Sadie and Sam could live happily ever after.
Still, even though the book is missing something in length, it doesn’t mean that everything in the story really needed to be there. My other complaint with this book lies in the suspense subplot weaving in and out of the story from time to time. The historical events forming the backdrop of this tale are action-packed and traumatic enough without the introduction of a villain who served no purpose other than being a caricature of evil in a story already packed with drama.
Even with its weaknesses, however, this is still an enjoyable debut novel. The history is fascinating, the main characters are both appealing, and the secondary child characters are well-drawn and not too precocious or overly precious at all. I am glad that I looked beyond the garish, off-putting cover to get to the very good story within. This one definitely stayed in my mind long after I had finished it.