Thursday, October 7, 2010

Into the Wilderness by Sara Donati (audio)

Book Description:
A novel that revolves around the forbidden, incandescent affair of a spinster Englishwoman and an American frontiersman. When Elizabeth Middleton leaves England to join her father and brother in the remote mountain village of Paradise in New York, she does so with a strong will and an unwavering purpose: to teach school. It is December of 1792 when she arrives in a cold climate unlike any she has ever experienced.

And she meets a man different from any she has ever encountered - a white man dressed like a native. His name is Nathaniel Bonner, also known to the Mohawk people as "Between Two Lives." Elizabeth's ultimate destiny, here in the heart of the wilderness, lies in the odyssey to come: trials of faith and flesh, and passion born amid Nathaniel's own secrets and divided soul.

This is a book that's been on my TBR list for a long, long time.  I've been hearing about it ever since I finished the Outlander Series for the first time over five years ago.  Everyone said if you like Outlander, you'll like this.  I'd heard the heroine was like a cross between Claire Fraser and Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice.  It all sounded too good to be true.   In response to all the praise, I resisted it, partly because I suspected I'd be let down.  Well, sure enough, that's exactly what happened.  My gut instinct, once again, was right.  It wasn't bad, but I wasn't bowled over by it either.  I'm glad I finally got around to it, but I just was not into it.   The plot itself wasn't bad, but it made no impact on me.  The characters had their good points and some were interesting, but for the most part, I was just kind of meh about the whole thing. 

For a long book, it surprisingly lacked the depth and emotion I'd expect a book this size to have.  I wasn't overly fond of any of the characters and had trouble really getting to like the heroine, Elizabeth, and the hero, Nathaniel.  He was enigmatic, very much of a mystery to me.  A white man, but raised very much with the ways and traditions of the native Indian  (Native American).  Elizabeth was always a little too stubborn.  Very independent and intelligent, she was someone to admire but where was her warmth and tenderness - a likability about her?  I felt at arms length with her.  Granted, I was interested in what happens to her and Nathaniel but I would not consider their love for one another all that great - in fact, I thought it seemed awfully rushed the way they fell in love and it kind of left me perplexed how they schemed and plotted to run off together - amazing!  Be that as it may, they made a good couple together.  I liked the way Nathaniel called Elizabeth "Boots." That was cute, but it's just about the only thing I can think of! Although there were some nice love scenes, they lacked passion - as did the entire book.

Elizabeth Middleton is new to Paradise, an Upstate New York settlement, still in the early days of the new United States in the early 1790's.  Her aging father, Judge Middleton, has lived there for some years already, although Elizabeth was raised in England with her dissolute brother, Julian.   As soon as Elizabeth and Julian arrive in Paradise, she meets the Bonners - Nathaniel and his father, Hawkeye (from Last of the Mohicans).  Both are mistaken for Indians at first, but it soon becomes apparent that they are white men, raised and adopted by the Indian tribe of the Kahnyen'kehaka.  She and Nathaniel are instantly "in" to each other, though she resists it at first.  She's a determined twenty-nine year old spinster, soon to be the schoolteacher in Paradise.  He's a hunter who's used to wearing a feather in his long, dark hair, wears buckskins and has a young half Indian daughter from a previous marriage.  Not exactly two people you'd expect who would hook up together immediately.  He knows she's the one for him, and in his own blunt sort of way, he tells her so, and before we know it, they're lovers and planning to run away together to avoid Elizabeth's unwanted suitor, Richard Todd.  Todd wants to marry her primarily to get the mountain her father owns and has promised to deed over to her when she marries.  She doesn't want to marry Todd, and we find out that he is a force to be reckoned with and doesn't take "no" easily.

Nathaniel and Richard Todd have had an ongoing rivalry for years and there is no love lost between them.  As much as Todd is a threat to them, I was never really all that worried about him as a villain.  It was another guy, Jack Lingo, who had me worried.  He was this trapper Frenchman that was after the "Tory Gold" a legendary gold that was reputed to have been stolen by Hawkeye's adopted father, Chingachgook.  Lingo is convinced they still have the gold and he's can be a ruthless cold blooded killer.   He pops up a few times in the story, enough to be a menace, but not a big one.

There are plenty of different characters in the book that gave the story some color, my favorite was the black housekeeper to the Judge, Curiosity.  A freed slave, she was smart and bossy and knew more than everybody else put together! She stole every scene she was in!   On audio, the parts with her sparkled and had life.  Julian, Elizabeth's brother is a ne'er do well rake with a gambling problem, who manages to eventually redeem himself just before his death.  Even he was somewhat of a cliche, but I liked the parts he was in.  I was fond of Robbie Maclachlan, a Scot who another hunter and trapper and a friend of the Bonners in the bush.  He had a cool cave that had it's own hot water spring - how convenient!  All the Indian characters were one dimensional, not surprising since they are generally soft spoken, of few words.  Hannah, Nathaniel's daughter was different, she was cute and perky, but borderline annoying some of the time.  Most everybody else was just sort of meh.  What can I say?  Maybe it's me.  It seemed like whenever something really big and dramatic should happen - it just kind of deflated and got solved too easily or was drawn out so much that it got boring, or everything faded in a cloud of blackness and we hear about what happened later.

The narrating itself was fine by Kate Reading who I know well from the Pink Carnation books.  Some parts could not have been easy with the various Indian pronunciations that sounded halting on audio.  I'm afraid much of the story just seemed dullish to me without any real compelling thread that made me want to see what happens next.  I was glad when it was finally over, rolling my eyes a bit at the big surprise about Hawkeye's heritage.

Sorry for those of you that love this series, I know it's a favorite for many.  Chalk it up to the fact that I've been spoiled by Diana Gabaldon, who's blurb of praise is smack dab right on the cover!  If only this book hadn't been compared so much to the Outlander Series, maybe I'd have felt differently.  Basically, the only similarity I found to it was the Indian connection.  I did appreciate the cameo references of Gabaldon's characters (by permission) to young Ian Murray and Jamie and Claire at the Battle of Saratoga.  Claire was referred to as a white witch healer.  Yet, the reminder of them only seemed to exacerbate my indifference to Donati's characters in comparison!  Plus, it made me want to re-read An Echo in the Bone sooner rather than later!  (I'm really due for a re-read of it!)

I'm glad to have at least crossed this one off my TBR list (it was one of the books in my 2010 TBR Challenge this year - I'm not having the greatest luck in choices unfortunately, hardly any winners!)  All I can say is, if you are a big Outlander fan, you may or may not feel the same way I do.  It's a risk you'll have to take, it could go either way.  The story here was a good one, it wasn't a total loss.  The writing itself was well constructed and I appreciated a lot of the descriptions and research that went into the writing of it, particularly in regard to the native American Indians, but it just needed more "oomph" for lack of a better word. 



Danielle said...

I reviewed this book back in July and I quite liked it. I gave it 4/5... but I 100% agree with everything you said. Whereas I connected instantly with Claire & Jamie, Murtagh, Jenny & Ian I was sort of indifferent to Donati's characters.

I went into 'Wilderness' on the hype of 'Outlander' fan recommendations (and a weird web rumour that started years ago that said Donati was Diana Gabaldon's pen-name... until they appeared at writer's events together and dispelled that rumour, lol). But Nathaniel is no Jamie, and Elizabeth couldn't hold a candle to Claire. I spent a good deal of the book wondering if Nathaniel was playing Elizabeth for her land, or if his affections were genuine.

And, contrite it may be, I wished for more sex scenes between Elizabeth and Nathaniel. One, because that's one of the best things about 'Outlander'. And two, because more descriptive sex scenes may have changed my mind about their affections and quick romance.

I agree, 'Into the Wilderness' does not fill the 'Outlander' void (hurry up and write Ms. Gabaldon!) but it was a nice historic romance with a different male lead. Donati's attention to detail was wonderful too.

It doesn't sound like you intend to, but I wouldn't recommend reading 2nd book 'Dawn on a Distant Shore'. I thought it was awful. Hundreds of pages of Donati *telling* not *showing*, in my opinion.

Great, honest review.

Svea ~Muse in the Fog said...

Thanks for the honest review! I hope you thoroughly enjoy your next read :)

Julie at Outlandish Dreaming said...

Danielle - that's the word I was looking for "connect" - I just didn't connect with anyone in this book! And no I don't intend to continue with the series, but yes, it was a nice story but cannot compare to Gabaldon!

Svea - thanks for commenting - and yes, my reviews are always honest! :D

Joanne said...

Hi, Julie -- As usual, you are spot on. I read this last year and had hopes of sinking my teeth into another historical series, but, eh, not so thrilled. I haven't felt compelled to read any other books in the series.

Julie at Outlandish Dreaming said...

Joanne - I just knew beforehand I was going to feel this way. That's why it took me so long to get around to reading (or listening, in my case) to it. It's awful to keep comparing it to Gabaldon, but I could not appreciate these characters and their love for one another and the whole big picture of living in Paradise and having the mountain - and of course, the end seemed a little ridiculous - almost as if it had been tacked on to please the publisher and give the Bonner's more gravity and substance to them. I don't know, I definitely not continuing, live and learn, not I know what it's all about - finally!

Yvette said...

Isn't it funny how sometimes you just KNOW you're not going to love a book. It's some sort of instinct, maybe. It's happened to me as well, Julie. I keep putting off and putting off a book just because I sense I'm not going to be loving it. 9 times out of 10, I am right. Here's a 'corker' for you. Have you read SON OF THE MORNING by Linda Howard? This one will unclog your sinuses...Ha!

Julie at Outlandish Dreaming said...

Yvette, I know just what you mean! It's so true! Yes, I loved Son of the Morning! Read my review of it in my tags. Just finished Mr. Perfect - loved it too!

Holly said...

Aw, I have this whole series on my shelf )except the newer one) and haven't tried them yet. Maybe I should have read Wilderness first and then started Outlander. I wonder if there is a series out there that can stand up to being compared to the adventures Jamie and Claire? :)

Julie at Outlandish Dreaming said...

Holly, don't despair, there are plenty of people that loved Outlander and also really enjoyed this series as well. But, IMHO, nothing can compare to the adventures of Jamie and Claire. If there is, I haven't found it yet.

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