Into The Wilderness
I frankly don’t know what to say about this book. But, if you’re willing to stay with me here, I’m willing to take a stab at it.
Have you read James Fenimore Cooper’s, The Last of the Mohicans? Voluntarily? Or did you study only parts of it in the tenth grade, as I did? This classic piece of American literature is from a far different era, one we today would not recognize. It was written for a different readership, one without television, movies, radio, often without newspapers or access to many books. An audience where its readers lived in isolation, far apart from neighbors, who had long evenings to fill with some kind of entertaining distraction. Books of this ilk were often meant to be read aloud, before the hearth, for the benefit of the entire family. They were lengthy, flowery in their verbiage, slow-moving in their action, and filled with protracted descriptions intended to decorate the reader/listener’s head with images.
Such, it seems, is Into The Wilderness, and I don’t mean that as an insult. It is on characters introduced in The Last of the Mohicans that Sara Donati has based her ambitious first novel. While most full-length historical romance novels total around 120,000 words (give or take), Into The Wilderness is a whopping 355,000 words (give or take), making it 3-times longer than the average romance you will read this month. So, is this novel a romance at all, or is it more historical fiction with a love story interwoven within? Thus my confusion. Strictly taken as a romance, it fails. As a historical, however, it succeeds rather well. So how does a reviewer evaluate a historical that’s being marketed as a romance?
The premise of the story rests with educated, independent, feisty, purposeful spinster Elizabeth Middleton, who has recently arrived in 1792 New York state, intending to open a school which will offer an education to the settlement’s children of all races – white, black, Indian. While her father and brother want her to marry well-to-do doctor Richard Todd, Elizabeth finds herself attracted to Mohawk-raised Nathaniel Bonner, a white man who’s Mahican (Mohican) wife died several years ago, and who finds Elizabeth a woman worth noting. Nathaniel is handsome, intelligent, sexy, and admires Elizabeth for the very traits for which her own culture has virtually ostracized her. He doesn’t care that English society has placed her on the shelf. To him, she appears to be the kind of woman a man should have by his side.
There is a dispute over the land on which Paradise, the community Elizabeth’s father founded, is built, and the Mahicans want to buy back Hidden Wolf Mountain from Judge Middleton. Determined not to sell, her father tries to persuade Elizabeth to marry Dr. Todd, with ownership of the mountain as her dowry.
Having fallen in love, in defiance of her father, and convention, Elizabeth marries Nathaniel, and the two flee into the wilderness to escape the wrath and hot pursuit of the spurned doctor, who re-e-e-ally wanted that mountain. A (large) cast of well-rounded secondary characters, excellent research and historical details, internal and external conflicts, and genuine love between the hero and heroine, combine to make this a good read. Certainly, author Donati’s efforts are to be applauded – she’s a talented writer and has an agreeable style. Having said that, the intimidating size of this book insinuates itself into any evaluation of it, and I personally found the book far too long to consistently hold my interest. While I can appreciate (and I do!) what it must have taken to construct Into The Wilderness, it is not a book I would have walked into a bookstore and picked up.
Is this novel worth the effort of reading three other books? Depends on what you’re looking for. If you want a true historical in every sense of the word, and can appreciate a view into the America of two centuries past, then, yes, you will love Into The Wilderness, and will be first in line for the sequel. While the relationship between Elizabeth and Nathaniel is appealing, if you’re looking for a straight romance that you can conquer in a few days, you may not find what you’re looking for here.
For the record, among others, I have read Gone With The Wind, War and Peace, and Les Miserables (which came in at about 1500 pages). I am capable of sticking with a storyline that doesn’t wrap up in 120,000 words. But, what I was looking for in those three books, is not what I look for in a romance. The storyline of Into The Wilderness did not compel me the way the characters and events did in those other three novels, so, even if Into The Wilderness had been shorter, my evaluation of it would probably have remained the same.