Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Review: Shadowbrook by Beverly Swerling

From the Back Cover:

A sweeping tale of love, ambition, and a war that ignited a revolution...

1754. In a low-lying glen in Ohio Country, where both the French and English claim dominion, the first musket ball fired signals the start of a savage seven-year conflict destined to dismantle France's overreaching empire and pave the way for the American Revolution. In a world on the brink of astonishing change are Quentin Hale, the fearless gentleman-turned-scout, fighting to preserve his beloved family plantation, Shadowbrook; Cormac Shea, the part-Irish, part-Indian woodsman with a foot in both worlds; and the beautiful Nicole Crane, who, struggling to reconcile her love for Hale and her calling to the convent, becomes a pawn in the British quest for territory. Moving between the longhouses of the Iroquois and Shadowbrook's elegant rooms, the frontier's virgin forests and the cobbled streets of Quebec, Swerling weaves a tale of passion and intrigue, faith and devotion, courage and betrayal. Peopled with a cast of unforgettable characters and historical figures, including a young George Washington, this richly textured novel vividly captures the conflict that opened the eighteenth century and ignited our nation's quest for independence. A classic in the making, Shadowbrook is a page-turning tale of ambition, war, and the transforming power of both love and duty.

My Thoughts:

I love novels set in early America. The birth of America is my favorite period in history and I read and research as much as I can about it. I think it's a time that gets overlooked a lot, especially in fiction, where everybody seems to be more interested in medieval times, the Tudors, Regency, etc. I immediately purchased this book after it was recommended in the American Historical Fiction Group on Goodreads.

I was thrown at first by the opening scene, as I mentioned in my Friday Firsts post from last week. The story opens with the five nuns of St. Clare flagellating themselves in their little chapel in Quebec, which I thought was an odd opening for a story about imperial war. But it turns out their order will play an important role in the story.

Adopted brothers Quentin Hale and Cormac Shea divide their time between the white and Indian worlds, occasionally hiring themselves out as wilderness scouts. While thus employed they meet unexpectedly on opposite sides of a skirmish between French and British troops, the latter lead by George Washington. Turns out Cormac was actually looking for Quent, bearing a message from his mother: his father is dying and he is needed back at the family plantation, Shadowbrook. Their long journey from the Ohio Country to New York is made complicated by the young, beautiful and mysterious French woman Nicole Crane, whom Cormac has agreed to escort to Quebec.

More complications await them at Shadowbrook, where they arrive to find they are not welcome by Quent's older brother John, who has been squandering the family fortune. Quent begins to think he could be happy again at Shadowbrook and confesses his love to Nicole who tells him she has chosen to give her life to God. Add to Quent's problems a land-obsessed Scotsman who covets Shadowbrook and will stop at nothing to get it, a lawless Indian renegade who has it out for Quent, and the fact that Shadowbrook lies between the two opposing forces as war appears imminent. The French are forming dangerous alliances with the Indian nations, and that's where the order of nuns comes back into play, as Nicole arrives to join them and two powerful French clergymen vie to use their influence with Indians and inhabitants to aid the French cause in the war for Canada and the Ohio territory.

I really wanted to love this book...but I didn't.

The historical content gets five stars from me. Lots of information on French Canada, its leaders and its inhabitants, on the northern Indian nations; their customs and hardships, and good insights as to why and how each nation chose where to stand in the conflict. The writing itself is very good; great descriptive passages and settings that come to life.

However, the story and characterization only get three stars from me. The first half of the book starts off very promising, but then the main characters become separated for long lengths of time and a few subplots come and go, and when they finally get back together for the Battle of Quebec (Plains of Abraham), it's very anti-climactic and doesn't feel truly satisfying. The point of view switches around so much, (there are about twenty different POVs), it's hard to really get to the meat of any one character, so they all come off as being rather superficial. And at times I really just wanted to smack Nicole.

My final reaction to this book was really more like three stars, but it is too well-researched and crafted to rate it that low, so I'm giving more weight to the historical content. I do think this author is worthy of another chance and so I plan to read the first book in her series about New York City, City of Dreams: A Novel of Nieuw Amsterdam and Early Manhattan.

My Rating:  4 Stars out of 5


  1. I agree with your comments on Shadowbrook. I read it when it first came out and really wanted to like it more than I did. It put me off reading other novels by the author for a while, until I was assigned City of Glory for review and loved it. Now I want to read her other novels as well.

  2. I so agree with you about American History--most people like to read hist-fic in England, but I'm trying to read more set in America. :)

    I have this on my TBR pile and now that I've read your review I know what I'm in for. LOL

  3. I loved City of Dreams and City of Glory, but this one didn't really work all that well for me either.

    I need to hurry up and request City of God from the library again and actually read it this time.


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