In this ambitious and vibrant sequel to The Last of the Mohicans
, Elizabeth Middleton, a well-educated spinster of 29, journeys from her home in England to her father's lands in upstate New York in 1792. Her widowed father has promised Elizabeth that she can become the schoolteacher for the local children, but on her arrival at Paradise, her father's property, she learns that he has brought her to America under false pretenses. It is his intention to find her a husband, preferably the well-respected physician, Richard Todd.
Though Elizabeth has no intention to marry, she is immediately drawn, not to Richard, but to backwoodsman Nathaniel Bonner, son of Dan'l "Hawkeye" Bonner, hero of the James Fenimore Cooper classic. Nathaniel's connection to the Mohican (Mahican) people is a strong one; he considers Hawkeye's adoptive father, Chingachgook, his grandfather, and his own wife was a Mahican woman who died in childbirth several years earlier.
Elizabeth learns from her father that her inheritance is a part of his lands, a mountain known as Hidden Wolf, to be granted to her when she marries. She soon finds herself caught between Nathaniel and the Mahicans, who want to buy back the mountain from her father as part of their hunting grounds, and Richard, who wants the land for himself and sees Elizabeth as the route to it. Her father, fearful that the sale of Hidden Wolf to the Mahicans will bring more Indians back to Paradise, favors Richard.
Knowing Richard's main interest in her is her land, Elizabeth resists his attentions as she gets to know Nathaniel and his people. The backwoodsmen and their Indian friends accept her and respect her opinions, and she soon finds herself siding with their claim to Hidden Wolf. Meanwhile, the attraction between her and Nathaniel grows into a love that only adds to the conflict between the whites and the Indians.
Into the Wilderness is an intelligent and beautifully written historical novel that draws the reader into another world. Elizabeth and Nathaniel are well-rounded and intelligent characters, and the secondary characters are also strong, three-dimensional, and often entertainingly quirky. Although the book is long--nearly 700 words--tight pacing makes it an entertaining read. Fans of Diana Gabaldon will want to watch for a cameo appearance by one of the characters of Gabaldon's stunning Outlander series. --Lisa Wanttaja
From Publishers Weekly
Epic in ambition, heaving-bosomed and lavish with pioneer life, Donati's debut inevitably invites comparison to the Revolutionary War-era romances of Diana Gabaldon. Claire Fraser, Gabaldon's time-traveling physician heroine, even makes a cameo appearance as a battlefield surgeon. Alas, Donati offers less wit and more cant than her celebrated precursor in a hefty volume that is politically correct to a fare-thee-well, suggesting that the author hoped single-handedly to reverse all race and gender bias. When Elizabeth Middleton, a proud spinster of 29, arrives in upstate Paradise, N.Y., after a sheltered life in England with her titled aunt, she means to live with her father, Alfred, a judge, and her wastrel brother, Julian, and teach school. Her father has a scheme, however. She is to marry Dr. Richard Todd and fulfill both men's ambitions for property. One look at rugged Nathaniel Bonner, a Scotsman raised by Mohawks (they call him Between-Two-Lives), and Lizzie scuttles her feminist disdain for marriage and her father's calculations. Nathaniel wants Judge Middleton's land, too, for his adoptive people?but, unlike Todd, he also wants Lizzie for herself. At first they are an enchanting couple, shooting at bad guys and making athletic love in unlikely woodsy settings. Then the charm falters as their adventures are padded with details that embroider without embellishing. Worse, the characters are color-by-numbers cartoons. Nathaniel is the only thoroughly admirable white male in the huge cast?upbringing having triumphed over blood?and no person of color has flaws. The many subplots are skillfully interwoven, and the author's sheer stamina commands respect; but the novel is complicated, not complex, overstuffed with familiar, featherweight themes. (Aug.) FYI: This novel is Donati's debut under her own name. Homestead, a book of short stories written under the pseudonym Rosina Lippi Green, was published by Delphinium.
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