Half-Mohawk and half-French, Catherine Duval must choose between the two worlds that formed her. When her mother dies, she decides to leave the Indian camp to keep house for her French father, Gabriel Duval, and manage his trading post. As much as he relies on her, however, she always proves a disappointment to him, and his unhealthy dependence on alcohol frequently leads him to treat her with harshness and violence. This departure from the Mohawk camp is seen as a betrayal by Catherine’s sister, Bright Star, and it is only after years of bitterness, heartache, tragedy, and hope that the sisters bridge the gap between them.
Told in two parallel story lines, ten years apart, the book commences with the return of Samuel Crane, an imprisoned British soldier, to the small Canadian town on the St. Lawrence River. Samuel had been indentured to Gabriel Duval ten years earlier, developing a relationship with Catherine that is now sundered. Resentful of his absence, Catherine finds herself troubled by his return–can it be that he still holds a piece of her heart, even after all these years?
As Catherine struggles to understand her feelings, the war between England and France takes a heavy toll on the Canadian colonies. Famine threatens both Montreal and Quebec, and Catherine helps harvest grain to send to the French soldiers. As her people suffer, she must answer the difficult question: is she willing to aid the enemy just so that the war will end?
The French and Indian War is typically examined from the side of the English, but here, we see the effects of the conflict on both the Canadian colonists and the native tribles. The setting of this story comes to life with ferocious grandeur and startling intensity. The plot itself unfolded beautifully like a flower, with layer after layer of disclosures piquing my interest throughout. At first, the book seems to be a tale of star-crossed lovers (the scene where Samuel takes the beating that Gabriel Duval means for Catherine is romance at its finest), but the story veers like a river channel to the deeper waters of the loyalty that binds family together.
Catherine is a strong, courageous, and capable young woman, trading with the rough men of Canadian territory and braving the rapids of the river in her own canoe, shifting between the many-layered gowns of eighteenth-century French women and the simple deerskin dress of a Mohawk huntress. The secondary characters in this story also stand out. Catherine’s half-brother, Joseph Many Feathers, is a devoted ally to those he calls family, providing meat for their hungry bellies and protection from every threat. Gabriel Duval alternates between apologetic episodes and alocholic rages, never quite accepting Catherine because of her half-breed status but regretful of his behavior when his mind clears. Bright Star, Catherine’s enigmatic sister, bears sorrows too many to count–her true feelings toward Catherine remain elusive even as she grudgingly agrees to assist Catherine in her time of need.
I thoroughly enjoyed this tale of early Canada. One of my favorite books as a child was Calico Captive by Elizabeth George Speare, and this book explored the same setting in 1700s Montreal and the same harsh realities of massacre/capture at the hands of the Native Americans. The character arcs were excellent, the surprise twist in the book was wholly a surprise to me, and the dual timeline plot was fresh and well-structured. The only thing that detracted from my enjoyment was the long span of time spent dwelling on the siege of Quebec, but other than that, highly recommended!
Disclosure: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. All opinions expressed in this review are my own.