Wednesday, July 2, 2014
'Burning Sky' by Lori Benton
Abducted by Mohawk Indians at fourteen and renamed Burning Sky, Willa Obenchain is driven to return to her family’s New York frontier homestead after many years building a life with the People. At the boundary of her father’s property, Willa discovers a wounded Scotsman lying in her path. Feeling obliged to nurse his injuries, the two quickly find much has changed during her twelve-year absence—her childhood home is in disrepair, her missing parents are rumored to be Tories, and the young Richard Waring she once admired is now grown into a man twisted by the horrors of war and claiming ownership of the Obenchain land.
When her Mohawk brother arrives and questions her place in the white world, the cultural divide blurs Willa’s vision. Can she follow Tames-His-Horse back to the People now that she is no longer Burning Sky? And what about Neil MacGregor, the kind and loyal botanist who does not fit into in her plan for a solitary life, yet is now helping her revive her farm? In the aftermath of the Revolutionary War, strong feelings against “savages” abound in the nearby village of Shiloh, leaving Willa’s safety unsure.
Willa is a woman caught between two worlds. As tensions rise, challenging her shielded heart, the woman called Burning Sky must find a new courage--the courage to again risk embracing the blessings the Almighty wants to bestow. Is she brave enough to love again?
First of all, I've got to mention the excellent way this book came to me. I won it by commenting on a blog, and it was delivered by the postman the very morning I was keeping track of the 2014 Christy Awards on live feed. Just as I was unwrapping it, this book was given a triple honour, winning two categories and book of the year. I couldn't ask for a better time to receive it.
Willa Oberchain was abducted by tribal Indians aged 14 and re-named Burning Sky. Twelve years later, her Indian family are all lost because of war or sickness, and she returns to her birth parents' property, to find them missing and presumed dead. There are several unforeseen roadblocks in the way of claiming her rightful inheritance. It's a well-researched story about the lonely, bereft young woman who feels she fits in nowhere, and the two men who love her.
There was no typical lovers' triangle, in which there is a clear favourite. Both men are God-honouring, sincere and lovable guys. The first we meet is Neil McGregor, the young Scottish botanist who was once almost scalped by Indians and lost his ability to read and write. The other is Joseph Tames-his-Horse, Willa's tribal 'brother' who would have had romantic intentions if she hadn't been assigned to his clan all those years ago. I appreciate it that, all through the story, these two can't help regarding each other with grudging like and respect, even though they view each other as rivals for Willa's affections. Actually, for a great part of the story, neither of them expected her to choose either of them, as she insulates herself from possible affection, having suffered so many hurts and tragic losses in her past
I like the way she identifies with the Indians and their culture as much as with the white settlers, since she'd spent almost half her life with them. But she knows that in the view of others, instead of belonging two places, she belongs nowhere. Having what I'd call 'David Bowie eyes' (different colours, one brown and one green in her case) may accentuate her impossible situation of being split between two totally different peoples and ways of life.
If there's ever a sequel dealing with the young siblings, Matthew and Maggie Kershaw, when they grow up, I'd read it for sure. I'd like to know what becomes of Francis Waring too, and Anni's two sets of twins. There are certainly several characters who hold our interest. Even the 'bad guy' is easy to regard with a bit of sympathy until the very end, when we find out exactly how low he is prepared to stoop.
Burning Sky: A Novel of the American Frontier available from Amazon