To get the full picture of Under a Blackberry Moon, it helps to read The Measure of Katie Calloway first, which describes how Moon Song and Isaac Ross, commonly called Skypilot for his former profession of preacher, meet in a lumber camp, though Miller summarizes it fairly well in Blackberry. This novel picks up immediately where Katie Calloway leaves off, three years before the related A Promise to Love begins.
Lumberjack Skypilot is escorting Chippewa woman Moon Song and her infant son from the thumb of Michigan to her people on the western end of the Upper Peninsula. Traveling by steamboat is the quickest way, by route of the great lakes, but not exactly the safest. When the ship wrecks, they are left to traverse the rest of the way by foot through dangerous wilderness. Though they grow closer on the journey, they discover their cultures are an obstacle not easily overcome on the path to love.
As with her other novels, Miller has put in a lot of research. She does not skimp on how poorly Indians were treated: in general attitudes, in marriages, in the degradations by the government, in stealing their children to "educate" them. It was a horrible time for them, when the life they'd known for so long was taken away, setting a course that affects them to this day. In addition, she discusses the difficulties missionaries faced, since by then the Indians had received too many conflicting versions of Christianity from white men who professed Christ yet so often failed to agree with each other or to show His love.
The book seems so simple straightforward when one reads the description - two people off on a long trip surviving adversity together, of course they fall in love! But it isn't simple; sure, they might be in love, but surviving all the shipwrecks and wolf attacks in the world together will not prepare one to give up everything one has known to live in another culture. Crossing that divide is no easy feat, as evinced by the multiple failures Moon Song has observed in her short lifetime. Miller has thoroughly thought through this aspect of the story and given it the emphasis it deserves. Culture gap is a huge issue that cannot be overcome simply by ooey-gooey romantic love - it takes serious work.
Once again, Serena Miller has written an excellent historical novel. The characters are flawed, but they grow significantly without ever bordering on unlikeable. I loved Skypilot, who makes an excellent hero; his devotion reminds me of Jacob laboring for Rachel. However, Moon Song's spiritual welfare is a priority for him, and no matter how much he wants to, he refuses to be unequally yoked in marriage. This book is a beautiful journey, full of adventure and determination. 5 out of 5 stars!
1. The Measure of Katie Calloway
2. Under a Blackberry Moon
3. A Promise to Love