Friday, March 21, 2014

Wanda E. Brunstetter's "Woman of Courage"

In her novel Woman of Courage, Wanda E. Brunstetter follows a Quaker girl as she plans to join a mission in the Oregon territory.  Taking place only one year after the first white women crossed the Rocky Mountains, Amanda Pearson is determined to follow their footsteps and escape the embarrassment of her failed engagement.  However, as disasters strike one right after another, she despairs reaching out to her non-believing companions, let alone ever arriving in Oregon to evangelize the Indians. 

Having read Jody Hedlund's novel The Doctor's Lady, about the first white women to cross the Rockies, which included the missionary Mrs. Spalding of this novel, I was excited to see that Brunstetter's novel is a spin-off of the same bit of history, following closely after Hedlund's tale.   Given the great revival of the time, it is little surprise that an evangelistic Quaker woman would want to take part in the missionary movement, even without the backing of the Mission Board. I like how Brunstetter also includes in her novel snippets about the various Native American tribes and customs - Nez Perce, Blackfoot, and Flathead - and how half-breeds descended of white fur trappers and native women were treated.

While I really enjoy the historical period and concept, the style of the story was not what I prefer.  It is very event-driven; one event occurs, then this happens, then this disaster strikes, etc. throughout the whole book.  I prefer character-driven novels, where the emphasis is on character development rather than all the myriad of happenings that befall the character.  As such, I had a hard time connecting with the characters - Buck especially - but I could appreciate their struggles.  Of the characters, my favorite was Mary Yellow Bird; though her story seems tragic at first, it becomes a tale of triumph and overcoming.  Her fears and trials are very real, and she seems more grounded in reality than idealistic Amanda.   

While it was okay to read once, I probably would not read it again.  3 out of 5 stars.

Thank you Barbour and NetGalley for providing a free e-copy for the purpose of review; I was not required to make it positive, and all opinions are my own.

Recommended alternate reading:

Jody Hedlund's The Doctor's Lady takes place the year before, chronicling the adventures of the first white woman to cross the Rockies, along with Reverend and Mrs. Spalding.

Emma of Aurora (the omnibus of A Clearing in the Wild, The Tendering Storm, and A Mending at the Edge) by Jane Kirkpatrick, follows a real religious colony of that picked up and settled in the Oregon territory prior to the Civil War.  

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