The first of Amanda Cabot's Westward Winds trilogy focuses on the middle of three sisters - Abigail, the practical (though sometimes impulsive) sister. A teacher in a girls' school, Abigail decides to travel out west during her vacation to Fort Laramie, Wyoming, to visit her older sister, whose letters have not left Abigail satisfied as to her health and well-being. Because of Charlotte's pregnancy, Abigail puts off her return to school and her almost-fiance, and in doing so spends more time with Lieutenant Ethan Bowles, a man desperate to solve the mysterious thefts plaguing the fort.
Cabot has a nice pace to the novel - it takes place over several months, and one can feel the time passing without the story dragging. The relationship between Ethan and Abigail (and Abigail's waning feelings for Woodward), Ethan's struggles to improve the morale of his troops and lower desertion rates, the increasing audacity of the stagecoach robbers - such things are not resolved instantly, but take time. Each feels better developed and more realistic thanks to their timing over the course of the story, without any losing its freshness and becoming a bore.
Probably my favorite part of the novel is how Ethan and Abigail's relationship develops - first as friends, since Abigail is practically engaged to another man and Ethan has no intention of ever marrying, and then slowly over the course of many suppers, horseback rides, and walks with the dog, their friendship deepens into love. I also really like that Abigail cares so much for Ethan's spiritual state and relationship with his grandfather, and she knows when to broach or back off those sensitive subjects. They are not perfect - occasionally they hurt one another - but they are quick to forgive and ask for forgiveness, modeling a very healthy relationship.
Midway, when Abigail is waffling in indecision, Cabot makes an excellent point that convicted me regarding my plans versus God's plans: "Ask God. She had been doing that. Or had she? . . . Had she really asked, or had she merely told God what she wanted and then waited for his approval of her plans?" (150). I know God's plans are always the best plans, and yet for some reason it is so easy just to make my own notably inferior plans and expect God to approve them. His are so much more imaginative, interesting, and efficient than mine, so one would think I would learn . . .
Besides being a lovely historical read about the latter days of Fort Laramie, the story also sports a mystery as to who is behind the stagecoach robberies, and the clues point to several possibilities. It wasn't until near the end that I was sure who the villain was. An excellent read! 5 out of 5 stars!
1. Summer of Promise
2. Waiting for Spring
3. With Autumn's Return