Lori Benton's start to her Pathfinder series sweeps the reader away to colonial New York in an epic worthy of the classics. Two women give birth in a British fort amidst battle during the French and Indian War - Major Aubrey's wife to a dead son, and Good Voice, the Indian captive, to twin sons, one white and the other dark. In a rash moment of grief and love, the major steals the fair twin and leaves his dead son in its place, sparking a wildfire of grief and guilt to wrack two families for decades. As years pass, Two Hawks grows up knowing his brother is lost out there somewhere, while William has no clue of a twin. And Anna, the semi-adopted foundling of the Aubrey family, becomes a part of the lives of both of them, bridging the two worlds together at the wood's edge.
Having read both previous novels by the author, I have high expectations for her work (and it is with good reason that Burning Sky earned three Christy Awards). The problem is, with such a high standard, can the next novel actually live up to it? I have to admit, this one did not live up to it - it surpassed it. Benton captures the loss and confusion, grief and despair, the self-destruction - all the messy consequences of sin that few authors dare explore in such depth - and entwines it with the rich, messy history of upstate New York.
Normally I'd say that the more points of view expressed in a story, the less cohesive and less intense the tale. But I have to make an exception with this one, which boasts five different viewpoints. It isn't a romance where the plot is about two leads developing a relationship and falling in love, where they are the two singularly most important characters of the story. No. This is the tale of what happens to two families broken by one man's rash decision, and what they go through over the years - exploring if reconciliation for such a deed is even possible. (And yes, there is romance, but there is so much more). Such a far-reaching tale demands a broader perspective to give justice to the history and heartbreak hidden between its covers. Each point of view is essential to the story.
In one respect, it is a heart-rending tale of the far-reaching consequences of sin. Guilt eats away at Major Aubrey, tainting his relationships and life, while at the same time he is not allowed to grieve the death of his son, because in the eyes of the world, his son lives. Good Voice, the mother of the twins, is anguished in the abduction of her son, and her husband, Stone Thrower, is eaten by hate and thirst for vengeance. Not to mention the effect on the children - they are caught in the middle, reaping the consequences of their parents' choices, whether they are aware of them or not.
But on the other hand, this epic tale is also a testimony to God's hand working things for the good, in spite of the poor choices made along the way. You cannot go back. You have to move forward. But you can choose to go forward on a different path.
Benton doesn't hold back - the story is messy, painful, wrenching. It cannot be tied up neatly in a bow, with good feelings restored all around. There is resolve, but the story is by no means finished - it has only begun. With great relief and anguish, I can assure you that there will be a sequel, but not until 2016. There is so much I'd love to add - all the meticulous attention to the history of the area, the tribute to a father's imperfect love, the romance - but then I'd be writing a book instead of a review. The Wood's Edge is unquestionably in my top ten novels of the year. I highly, highly recommend it!
Thank you Blogging for Books for providing a free book for this review; I was not required to make it positive, and all opinions are my own.
1. The Wood's Edge
2. A Flight of Arrows
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