07 October 2008

Review: Dawn on a Distant Shore, by Sara Donati

Note: This review contains a very minor spoiler for those who haven't read Into the Wilderness, the first book in this series. It also contains a loose summary of the set up for the book being reviewed but no actual spoilers. Skip to the paragraphs below the asterisks if you simply want my opinion.

This historical novel is the second in a series about Elizabeth and Nathaniel Bonner, who live in upstate New York in the late 1700s. Elizabeth was born in England and was raised to take her place in society and at court. Her husband was born in the New World and, though of Scottish heritage, was raised as a Mowhawk. And, as can be expected, their personal histories color their outlooks on life and their relationship as a couple.

The book opens as Elizabeth is giving birth to their twins. Soon after, Nathaniel learns that his father has been arrested and is jail in Montreal. He thus must leave his family and travel to Canada to retrieve his father. Unfortunately, Nathaniel himself ends up in jail, and he, his father, and their companion find themselves in deep trouble. In an effort to save the men, Elizabeth decides to go to Albany to speak with her cousin, who is an attorney trained in British law. Because she can't leave her children behind, Elizabeth travels with her father's housekeeper, who can help take care of the babies.

Of course, nothing is ever as easy as it seems, and the family finds that its troubles have a deeper source than they had ever expected. Through a series of adventures, they find themselves far from home wondering how they will ever manage to return to the people and land they love. Solutions come from unexpected sources.

* * * * * *

Sara Donati's ability to create full and believable characters is one of her strong points. Another is the subtle way in which she helps the reader capture a sense of place and ambiance in many scenes throughout the novel. Furthermore, the story line is complex, and not all the subplots have obvious conclusions. Because the stories are intriguing and the characters have come alive for me, I will continue to follow the Bonners' adventures.

However, I don't understand why I am not compelled to rush right out and get the next book immediately, even though I do want to read it. I like the time period, I like the setting, I like the good people, I don't like the bad people, and I care about what's going to happen next. Yet I don't feel a deep and impatient need to stay in that world . . . though I will return to it in the coming months.

Fun fact: You'll recognize characters from other novels as well as a few historical figures when reading about Elizabeth and Nathaniel.

I listened to the unabridged audio edition (Random House) read by the fabulous Kate Reading. Her characterizations and inflections greatly added to an already good novel.

This book was part of Katrina's Fall into Reading challenge. Are you wondering why this book was not on my original list? Click here to learn why. To see other reviews in the Fall into Reading challenge, click here.

Published by Bantam Books, 2001
ISBN-13: 978-0553578553
Challenge: Fall into Reading
Rating B+


Jules 10/9/08, 3:58 PM  

The book doesn't sound half bad. I've been looking for books in this era of time to expand my reading. More books to add to my ever growing TBR list. Good review.

Nicole (Linus's Blanket) 10/11/08, 6:45 PM  

I like when recognizable characters pop up in fiction. over the summer I read a book about the Salem Witch trials and Hester Prynne pops up in jail in the book. I know she's not real or historical, but it was fun.

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