Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Review: Burning Sky by Lori Benton

From the Back Cover:

"I remember the borders of our land, though I have been gone from them nearly half the moons of my life. But who there will remember me? What I have seen, what I have done, it has changed me.

I am the place where two rivers meet, silted with upheaval and loss.

Yet memory of our land is a clear stream. I shall know it as a mother knows the faces of her children. It may be I will find me there."
Abducted by Mohawk Indians at fourteen and renamed Burning Sky, Willa Obenchain is driven to return to her family’s New York frontier homestead after many years building a life with the People. At the boundary of her father’s property, Willa discovers a wounded Scotsman lying in her path. Feeling obliged to nurse his injuries, the two quickly find much has changed during her twelve-year absence—her childhood home is in disrepair, her missing parents are rumored to be Tories, and the young Richard Waring she once admired is now grown into a man twisted by the horrors of war and claiming ownership of the Obenchain land.

When her Mohawk brother arrives and questions her place in the white world, the cultural divide blurs Willa’s vision. Can she follow Tames-His-Horse back to the People now that she is no longer Burning Sky? And what about Neil MacGregor, the kind and loyal botanist who does not fit into in her plan for a solitary life, yet is now helping her revive her farm? In the aftermath of the Revolutionary War, strong feelings against “savages” abound in the nearby village of Shiloh, leaving Willa’s safety unsure.

Willa is a woman caught between two worlds. As tensions rise, challenging her shielded heart, the woman called Burning Sky must find a new courage--the courage to again risk embracing the blessings the Almighty wants to bestow. Is she brave enough to love again?

My Thoughts:

After war and illness decimate her tribe and rob her of her husband and children, Willa Obenchain, the Mohawk woman once known as Burning Sky, having nowhere else to go, returns to the village of Shiloh on the New York frontier, where she had been abducted twelve years earlier. She discovers a homeland still struggling to put itself back together after the American Revolution, where long-held grudges are still simmering along with a deep distrust of the Native Americans who helped the British. She also discovers that her parents have been missing since the war, when they disappeared under suspicion of aiding the enemy. Willa, as a Mohawk and the daughter of parents accused of being Loyalists during the war, is doubly maligned as she attempts to make a place for herself in her childhood home.

Neil MacGregor is a physician on a commission from the Philadelphia Philosophical Society to compile a collection of botanical drawings in the Adirondack Mountains. Willa comes upon him after a nasty fall has left him incapacitated. He bears scars, both visible and invisible, and though he is a man of deep faith, he's found it tested of late, and has found solace in the solitude of his work. While recuperating at Willa's humble homestead, he becomes enamored of the strong, stoic woman of two worlds with two different colored eyes.

Facing contempt and even threats from some of the villagers, including her childhood sweetheart who has been turned bitter and ugly by his experiences in the war and with the Mohawk, and who is determined to seize Willa's land for his own, Willa's grudging acceptance of her situation becomes determination to reclaim a life long lost to her, and to discover what happened to her parents in her absence. And Neil becomes determined to help her. But he has demons of his own to conquer, and Willa's stubborn pride and closed-off heart, and a Mowhawk friend who would like nothing more than to bring Willa back to the People, cause him to question his place in her life. But a series of events both human and divine in nature keep him near, and when the truth of Willa's parents surfaces and Willa's enemies make their final play, Neil and Willa will both have to decide where their hearts lie and what is worth fighting for.

The inspirational theme of the story is "a bruised reed shall not break," and this is embodied not only in Willa but in many of the supporting characters and in the community and young nation itself. Faith does play a large role in the story, but it flows organically through the plot points and is realistically portrayed through the hearts of two damaged souls struggling to find their place in the world amid much hardship and strife. The story is very well written and full of rich characterization. It gets bumped down a notch for Willa's stubbornness, which carries on too long and almost causes her to lose everything, and for a bit of over-the-top antics on the part of her enemies, but overall, I thought it was an impressive debut and a satisfying tale of faith and love on the American frontier.

My Rating:  4 Stars out of 5

**Please Note: This review references an advance copy received from the publisher through the Amazon Vine program. These are my honest and unbiased opinions, and I was not compensated in any other way for reviewing this book.

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