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Burning Sky: A Novel of the American Frontier Paperback – August 6, 2013
Four girls on a trip to Paris suddenly find themselves in a high-stakes game of Truth or Dare that spirals out of control. Learn More
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Q&A with Lori Benton
Q. What first sparked your interest to write Burning Sky?
A. When I began researching the 18th century history of what would become the United States, almost at once I was drawn away from the populated seaboard settings to the sparsely settled periphery—the mountain and over-mountain frontier—where cultures inevitably collided, in friendship, trade, and war. What captured my imagination were those individuals who were drawn across those cultural barriers and not only survived the encounter, but thrived, in some cases learning to straddle that line between two worlds.
The Mohawk Valley of New York—before, during, and after the Revolutionary War—is a setting rife with such encounters, played out against the greater conflict of what amounted to a civil war. I couldn’t resist learning more about these men and women—European, African, and Native American—who survived profound losses, made wrenching choices, and saw their families and communities fractured by violence and upheaval, leaving them to redefine their identities as nations, neighbors, kin, and individuals.
I began writing Burning Sky in 2009, but because I let a story germinate for months before writing, I can’t recall exactly when the character of Willa Obenchain first came to me. What I do recall is that a vision of a solitary woman on a journey, somewhere on the New York frontier, intruded upon me as I was going about my day. She was tall and strong, and she bore a carrying basket on her back. And somewhere, I was fairly certain, a collie was lurking.
Q. Who is your favorite character and why?
A. Because I’ve attempted to live inside each main character’s skin, to understand them and their concerns, I’ve formed a deep attachment to all of them. But to give an answer I’ll choose Neil MacGregor, the wounded Scottish botanist Willa meets in the first chapter. Neil MacGregor is a survivor. He has suffered a debilitating injury that might easily have caused him to give up his life’s passion, his dreams. It’s an injury that renders everyday life more challenging. Yet he’s pressed on, found ways to compensate, and discovered he is capable of more than he’d ever have known had that injury not occurred. I find that inspiring, and I hope readers do as well.
Q. Do you have any Native American heritage in your own family?
A. Possibly, if ancient family history is to be trusted. In my case it traces back to the settling of Jamestown, and the Powhatan people of eastern Virginia, where I was born. But that’s very far back in my family history. I came to adulthood with no connections to Native American nations besides friendships. My husband’s Cherokee heritage is more recent, and more certain. He’s descended from a Cherokee family who didn’t go west in the 1830s along the Trail of Tears. They hid from government officials and remained in the east, and thus never ended up on the Dawes Rolls. My husband’s Cherokee ancestor eventually settled in Louisiana, where my mother-in-law was born. Now in her 80s, she remembers her half-Cherokee grandmother well.
Q. What do you believe is Willa’s most relatable characteristic to readers?
A. During the war years, prior to the opening of Burning Sky, the inhabitants of the Mohawk Valley who didn’t flee in the face of continual attacks lived within walled forts to survive. Devastated by personal losses, Willa Obenchain has internalized this defensive position, forting up her heart behind protective walls. But behind those walls she’s still a woman of fierce compassion. When push comes to shove she follows that compulsion, even if it entails putting herself in harm’s way. I admire that in Willa.
Q. How do you hope Burning Sky will affect readers?
A. I’m a storyteller first and foremost. As such I hope readers are entertained by Willa’s story and transported to her 18th century world to experience situations and challenges most of us (thankfully) don’t encounter in our daily lives, but that hold abiding interest nevertheless. Beyond that… I’ve heard it said that no two people who read the same book… read the same book. Each reader brings to the story a lifetime of experience (and opinions, wisdom, burdens, questions, preferences, and dislikes). It’s a wonderful, unpredictable chemistry that can happen between the reader and the story world. Sometimes the chemistry is strong and good. Sometimes it isn’t there at all. But if a reader should turn the last page of Burning Sky and find herself reminded that through trials and tears we have a heavenly source from which we can draw comfort, courage, and strength to help in time of need, I’d be thrilled.
From Publishers Weekly
Top Customer Reviews
This novel has several things that in my opinion make it much more than just an exciting story. As a "faith-based romance", it avoids the excessive emphasis on sexual encounters that has recently developed in popular literature. However, the author is by no means prudish in her discussion of the realities of human love and attraction, and treats interracial liaisons with sensitivity and authenticity. It is obviously historically accurate and gives a clear understanding of the tragedy of the way in which the Eastern Tribes were caught up in the conflicts of the Revolution. Simultaneously, Benton does an extremely successful job of developing the characters, who are extraordinarily diverse. The two children, so important to the narrative, as well as Willa's friend Anni and her impaired brother Francis, are highly sympathetic and completely believable. Even the "villains" are depicted as more complex than caricatures of evil.
The prose is richly descriptive, but not distracting from the tension and drama.Read more ›
As a historical novel, it brings out the attitudes and prejudices that were prevalent during those days in which our country was developing.
As a romance, it is refreshing to come across a completely clean love story that doesn't wallow in excessive sexual scenes. The triangular love story was well developed with Willa, the Scottish Neil McGregor and the native Joseph.
As one who might have become educated as a botanist had I chosen differently, I enjoyed the details of Neil McGregor's botanical research.
As a Christian novel, I was glad to see the scriptural and spiritual references scattered throughout without getting in the way of the continuing story.
As an overall good read, this is most highly recommended.
Willa Obenchain was abducted by the Mohawk Indians at the age of fourteen. Twelve years later she returns to her former home as changed as the settlement of Shiloh is. The Revolutionary War is over, her parents are missing and the status of their homestead is to be determined by a magistrate. Having faced loss repeatedly over almost half her life, Willa is determined to live alone, without any chance of getting hurt again. But of course life takes over — a wounded naturalist lays across her path, as do two orphaned half-breed children, and her Mohawk brother. There are also those who cannot let the past remain in the past and are determined to drive Willa from her land.
Burning Sky is a novel with many strengths. Benton has created a world long past, but very real to the reader. The frontier of New York in the 1780s is depicted with historical accuracy. The characters, major as well as minor, are well-drawn, having a complexity that adds depth to their motives and actions. Willa is perhaps the strongest female character I have experienced this year. Benton’s writing style is beautiful, especially in the conversation of Neil MacGregor. Who wouldn’t fall in love with a man who talked like that!Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
This novel depicted a time our country when the relationships of Native Americans, colonists, British and French were very tense. Read morePublished 1 day ago by Muriel
I found this book to be captivating. It was very hard to put down once I started the characters were life size and interesting. I would like to see more of this authors' worksPublished 2 months ago by Waneta L. Turner
I loved this book! How I want to keep reading about these characters. Faith is a beautiful part and basis for this amazing story! I love the historical fiction. Read morePublished 3 months ago by David L & Naomi J Talbott
Very well written. Just do not see how people went through this.Published 3 months ago by Rebecca Benson
I really enjoyed this novel by Lori Benton and wasn't ready for it to end! The characters were so interesting and I learned so much from her research into the historical setting. Read morePublished 7 months ago by Sharon Fink Stoltzfus
OH MY GOODNESS! I am totally amazed at having found such a great read that is also virtuous. No bad language and no immoral conduct and yet not boring!! Read morePublished 8 months ago by Cindy