Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Beyond the Wild River ~ Sarah Maine (earc) review [@SarahMaineBooks @AtriaBooks]

Beyond the Wild River
Atria Books
April 18, 2017
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For fans of Kate Morton and Beatriz Williams, a highly atmospheric and suspenseful historical novel, set in the 1890s about a Scottish heiress who unexpectedly encounters her childhood friend in North America, five years after he disappeared from her family’s estate the night of a double murder.

Nineteen-year-old Evelyn Ballantyre has rarely strayed from her family’s estate in the Scottish Borderlands, save for the occasional trip to Edinburgh, where her father, a respected magistrate, conducts his business—and affairs of another kind. Evelyn has always done her duty as a daughter, hiding her boredom and resentment behind good manners—so when an innocent friendship with a servant is misinterpreted by her father as an illicit union, Evelyn is appalled.

Yet the consequence is a welcome one: she is to accompany her father on a trip to North America, where they’ll visit New York City, the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago, and conclude with a fishing expedition on the Nipigon River in Canada. Now is her chance to escape her cloistered life, see the world, and reconnect with her father.

Once they’re on the Nipigon, however, Evelyn is shocked to discover that their guide is James Douglas, the former stable hand and her one-time friend who disappeared from the estate after the shootings of a poacher and a gamekeeper. Many had assumed that James had been responsible, but Evelyn never could believe it. Now, in the wilds of a new world, far from the constraints of polite society, the truth about that day, James, and her father will be revealed…to stunning consequences.

Beyond the Wild River did not pull me in as much or as quickly as I was hoping, despite being set in both a great time and great places.  The story is set in 1893, in both Chicago at the World's Fair and later in Canada on the Nipigon River. Events that happened five years earlier at the Ballantyre estate in Scotland are alluded to and sometimes glimpsed and play an crucial role in the characters' modern day.

Not knowing just exactly what happened in Scotland, what was said or not said about it, and who believed what does help give the story some mystery. Yet, it also made it harder for me to relate to the characters. For most of the book, I had trouble really knowing who they were, why they were certain ways. It both worked that we did not get a full accounting for the events in 1888 and their aftermath, and did not work.

The last third or so of the novel, when both characters and readers are more aware of the truth (and the lies and half truths that were substituted) was the most compelling and engrossing. It was then that I really felt for the characters, understood better who they were, and felt more invested in what happened to them.

The 'current' setting, both Chicago and  where the fishing expedition takes the characters, was very well portrayed. The author did a great job capturing the changes that were impacting each locale and its people. The inclusion of how the development and the industry were changing both the physical landscape and the native peoples was fantastic. I liked, as well, that it addressed where women were in society while keeping it all a part of the story.

I love that author Sarah Maine takes places or times that I thought I was (at least somewhat) familiar with and shows me a new angle, a new perspective, a new setting. I do look forward to more from her.

digital review copy received, via NetGalley, thanks to publisher

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