It’s quite a special skill to be able to take a reader (like me) from a dreary morning in a coffee shop in Scotland and catapult them back through time into the hardships and wonders of a long-past era. But within a few pages I was there with the book’s hero, Liam Mallory, edging through snow on my belly, tracking deer. Soon after I was sitting around the fire with the rest of the Mallory family and their close friends as they enjoyed Liam’s catch along with a fair dose of home-brewed ale. Bennet paints an intimate picture of a very real family life in the era, and the excitement builds as they discuss their plans: to move to a new trading post in the western frontiers. A bold move indeed, given the dangers of that untamed and much-coveted land.
The story moves at a fair old pace, never sagging nor over-egging any one event. The Mallory clan and their cadre travel to their new home, literally and metaphorically arriving right in the lines of fire between the forces of Britain and France, each power at this point striving to claim the new world as their own. And the European behemoths are not the only factions vying to shape their own fortunes. The Native American tribes – proud people and fierce, ruthless warriors – sense that their destiny is being stolen from them. Most tribes carefully choose to ally with one of the great powers, though some decide on an alternative path…
And it is here that the Mallory family become truly entwined in events. Our hero, Liam, finds himself befriended by the people of a Mohawk village and soon loves them as he does his blood-kin, even taking a Mohawk wife. But the less accepting tribes soon descend and shatter Liam and his family’s new life. Bennet writes gruesome scenes as well as he does touching ones, and without giving away any detail, I’ll say that his descriptive of what happens to Liam’s loved ones was harrowing, frank and quite unsettling.
And so Liam is drawn into the war. What follows is relentless, real and human. Rich in detail mined from the author’s clearly painstaking research, we find lessons that should have been learned from the distant past rising to the fore once more; cannons boom, bullets fly and tomahawks spin through the air as the war builds towards a brutal climax.
A fresh voice and a cracking tale. Recommended!