In 1676, an unlikely pair—a young Puritan widow and an English spy—journeys across a land where greed and treachery abound.
Prudence Cotton has recently lost her husband and is desperate to find her daughter, captured by the Nipmuk tribe during King Philip’s war. She’s convinced her daughter is alive but cannot track her into the wilderness alone. Help arrives in the form of James Bailey, an agent of the crown sent to Boston to investigate the murder of Prudence’s husband and to covertly cause a disturbance that would give the king just cause to install royal governors. After his partner is murdered, James needs help too. He strikes a deal with Prudence, and together they traverse the forbidding New England landscape looking for clues. What they confront in the wilderness—and what they discover about each other—could forever change their allegiances and alter their destinies.
Published: June 1, 2015
My Review: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
This book is a dramatic, poignant look at Colonial life in early New England. I was completely enthralled from start to finish.
First, the author’s research is impeccable. He clearly knows his facts. I grew up in Massachusetts, where early English settlements and Puritan life is something of a backdrop to our existence. Rarely, though, did that history feel more alive than it did here. The author uses his knowledge and understanding of Puritan times to build a believable plot, played out by characters with emotional depth.
“There are no Christians in war.” Prudence blurted the words before she could reconsider. Horrified, she put her hand over her mouth. “Pray, pardon me. I shouldn’t have said that.”
The author’s handling of setting might be my favorite part of this book. Puritan New England was an unforgiving place, where people made a point of knowing their neighbors’ business. It was also a fearful place, with a vengeful God and untamed land full of warring Indians. The people, though, were often a study in contrasts. Being born into Puritanism did not erase all that makes us human. Michael Wallace captures all of this and brings it to life.
James kept his face blank. Peter was so sincere in his misguided faith, and it was a hard thing to purposefully manipulate a man to one’s own means. Especially when it might put him in danger. But that’s what it meant to serve the Crown. It justified hard measures.
The plot moves at a good pace, vacillating between James’s and Prudence’s points of view. We have suspense and intrigue, along with drama and a dash of romance. We’re taken into the heart of war, with Indians fighting to hold on to their land, religion, and lifestyle, while the English are determined to take it all away. Wallace shows us both sides with unflinching honesty.
“I can’t let it go. I feel as though I’m still there. A sound, a smell will spark my memories, like fire on dry tinder. Then suddenly I’m back in Winton. People burning in their homes. Women, children, screaming. The Indians have tied my husband up and are cutting his fingers, his nose, his ears, while he screams for help-“
Then we have the characters, who are, perhaps, the epitome of our early settlers. James is unquestionably loyal to England, though his patriotism is often challenged by what he sees and feels within New England. Prudence is English, but knows only Puritan life. Her loyalties are divided between her home country and her heritage. She is conflicted not only by this, but also by the harsh religion that often dictates a behavior opposite that of which she feels.
“I was born in Boston,” she said, “and have never been to England, so I don’t know. But it does seem to me that the English arrive in the New World – how shall I voice it? – cynical and hardened. And yet overconfident at the same time. They’ve never seen a gale howling off the Atlantic, capsizing boats and washing away coastal villages. They’ve never set off for the next town not knowing if they would be attacked by wolves or murdered by angry natives. They don’t live on the edge of an unknown wilderness.”
Michael Wallace’s attention to detail and his storytelling ability combine here to bring us an unforgettable journey.
Thanks for reading. 🙂