Sunday, January 17, 2010

Review: Dawn on a Distant Shore by Sara Donati

Dawn on a Distant ShoreFrom the Back Cover:

Elizabeth and Nathaniel Bonner have settled into their life together at the edge of the New-York wilderness in the winter of 1794. But soon after Elizabeth gives birth to healthy twins, Nathaniel learns that his father has been arrested in British Canada. Forced to leave Hidden Wolf Mountain to help his father in Montreal, Nathaniel himself is imprisoned and in danger of being hanged as a spy. In a desperate bid to save her husband, Elizabeth bundles her infants and sets out through the snowy wilderness and across treacherous waterways on the dangerous trek to Canada. But she soon discovers that freeing her husband will take every ounce of her courage and inventiveness - and will threaten her with the loss of what she loves most: her children. Torn apart, the Bonners must embark on yet another perilous voyage, this time all the way across the ocean to the heart of Scotland, where a destiny they could never have imagined awaits them...

This book is the sequel to Into the Wilderness, which I read late last year and really enjoyed. The story picks up right where it left off with a gripping series of scenes in which Elizabeth gives birth to twins at home on Hidden Wolf with only the help of her ten-year-old step-daughter. Meanwhile Nathaniel is trapped in the village by a blizzard, desperate to get home to his wife, whom he thinks is only having one baby. A good way to draw the reader into the story and what follows does not disappoint: an adventure with a long, twisting, turning plot with many characters and viewpoints, romance, danger and surprises.

The Bonners travel to Canada and Scotland, through wilderness and by sea. Ms. Donati writes very descriptively, and there's no doubt she brings settings and details into vivid life, but sometimes I felt like there was too much attention paid to detail and conversely there were several instances where I felt like not enough attention had been paid to the meat of the story. All of the storylines come to a head in the last few pages and thus the climactic scenes felt rushed and conclusions to a couple of storylines were not thoroughly fleshed out; I didn't feel completely satisfied. One example: near the end Nathaniel has to make a startling revelation to Elizabeth, but the reader is not privy to that conversation or to her reaction to the news.

Some of the plot twists were a little over-the-top, but I once read that if you can write great characters, your reader will go along with anything you throw at them, and Ms. Donati has a real talent for writing characters that are complex and realistic and that readers become attached to. A large chunk of this book is devoted to Hannah, Nathaniel's tender-hearted half-Indian daughter, who struggles to come to terms with the cruelty and bigotry of others, and to find her place in the world as a child of two races. I was glad to get to know her so well and my heart ached for her. She is much changed by the end of their journey and there is a very fitting and meaningful rite of passage at the end for her.
Overall I enjoyed this sequel. I've grown attached to the characters and I'm moving right along to the next book in the series, Lake in the Clouds.
Rating:  4 out of 5 Stars


  1. If I had to nominate the book that I didn't like most out of this series, it would be this one, but it is still right up there with other good historical fiction! It just doesn't quite live up there with the other books in this series. So excited at the prospect of a new book very soon!

  2. Marg, I just finished Lake in the Clouds and I loved it. I wish I had the other books in the series at hand so I could keep on reading, but they'll have to wait till my next paycheck! I just love Hannah, though I am disappointed to see that the next book starts ten years later. I could have read a whole book about Hannah's time out west with her husband's people.


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