Today on My Reading Life, I’m going to highlight a series that captured me from the very first book, each instalment joining the others in their permanent home on my shelves. The Wilderness Series by Sara Donati. Epic in scope, each book weighing in at around 900 pages, this series weaves a tapestry of fact and fiction, sweeping us into another time and place, all of it beginning with a forbidden affair between an unconventional Englishwoman and an American frontiersman.
I received the first book in The Wilderness Series, Into the Wilderness, as a thank you gift from a friend. I’d never heard of Sara Donati before, nor had I heard of Diana Gabaldon, whose high praise on the cover conveyed much about this mystery book’s contents. But even back then I loved historical fiction, as my friend well knew, and thick books had never put me off either. To my utter delight, Into the Wilderness proved itself a most enjoyable read, containing all of the necessary ingredients required for a good historical fiction with romantic elements. I was over-joyed to see the promo for the second instalment advertised in the back cover, less so when I realised I would have to wait two years for it, and for each one thereafter. They were, of course, definitely worth the wait! There are six books in total and the series is now finished with all titles available in gorgeous matching covers. While I loved all six books in the series, book 5, Queen of Swords, is my ultimate favourite. This is not a series that you can follow without having read each book. The stories are rich in detail and inter-connecting back stories with a heavy cast of characters. They’re also multi-generational, spanning decades. I’m going to attempt to summarise each of the blurbs for the rest of this article so that you can get a feel for what the series is about.
Into The Wilderness #1:
December of 1792. Elizabeth Middleton leaves her comfortable English estate to join her family in a remote New York mountain village. It is a place unlike any she has ever experienced. And she meets a man unlike any she has ever encountered – a white man dressed like a Native American, Nathanial Bonner, known to the Mohawk people as Between-Two-Lives. Determined to provide schooling for all the children of the village, she soon finds herself locked in conflict with the local slave owners as well as her own family. Interweaving the fate of the Mohawk Nation with the destiny of two lovers, Sara Donati’s compelling novel creates a complex, profound, passionate portrait of an emerging America.
Dawn on a Distant Shore #2:
Elizabeth and Nathaniel Bonner have settled into their life together at the edge of the New-York wilderness in the winter of 1794 when Elizabeth gives birth to healthy twins. But soon the events in Canada draw Nathaniel far away from his new family. Word has reached them that Nathaniel’s father has been arrested by crown officials in British Canada. Nathaniel reluctantly leaves Hidden Wolf Mountain to set out for the distant city, determined to see his father freed. Instead Nathaniel is imprisoned and finds himself in imminent danger of being hanged as an American spy. In a desperate bid to save her husband, Elizabeth bundles her infants and sets out on the long trek to Montreal. Accompanied by her stepdaughter, Hannah, their wise friend Curiosity Freeman, and Runs-from-Bears, a Mohawk warrior and lifelong friend of Nathaniel’s, Elizabeth journeys through the snowy wilderness and across treacherous waterways. But she soon discovers that freeing Nathaniel will take every ounce of her courage and inventiveness. It is a struggle that threatens her with the loss of what she loves most: her children.
Torn apart, the Bonners must embark on yet another perilous voyage…this time all the way across the ocean to the heart of Scotland, where a wealthy earl claims kinship with Nathaniel’s father, Hawkeye. In his heart, the Mahican tribe of Hawkeye’s youth is the truest kin he will ever know, just as Nathaniel will always remain loyal to the Mohawk nation. But with this journey a whole new world opens up to Nathaniel and Elizabeth–and a destiny they could never have imagined awaits them.
Lake in the Clouds #3:
It is the spring of 1802 and the village of Paradise is still reeling from the typhoid epidemic of the previous summer. But despite a devastating personal loss, the Bonners persevere, with Hannah, Nathaniel’s half-Indian daughter, working as a doctor in training. A gifted healer, this striking young woman of two worlds finds herself in peril when a dangerously ill runaway slave is discovered near the family home and Hannah insists on nursing the outlaw. Her determination places both her family and her heart in jeopardy, for a bounty hunter is afoot–and he is none other than Hannah’s childhood friend and first love. So begins a journey that will test the strength of the Bonners’ love for one another–and bring Hannah to face the decision she has always dreaded: will she make a life for herself in a white world, or among her mother’s people?
Fire Along the Sky #4:
The year is 1812 and Hannah Bonner has returned to her family’s mountain cabin in Paradise. But Nathaniel and Elizabeth Bonner can see that Hannah is not the same woman as when she left. For their daughter has come home without her husband and without her son…and with a story of loss and tragedy that she can’t bear to tell. Yet as Hannah resumes her duties as a gifted healer among the sick and needy, she finds that she is also slowly healing herself. Little does she realize that she is about to be called away to face her greatest challenge ever.
As autumn approaches, news of the latest conflict with Britain finds the young men of Paradise—including eighteen-year-old Daniel Bonner—eager to take up arms. Against their better judgment, Nathaniel and Elizabeth must let him go, just as they must let his twin sister Lily, a stubborn beauty, pursue her independence in Montreal. But on the eve of the War of 1812, an unexpected guest arrives from Scotland: It is the Bonners’ distant cousin, the newly widowed Jennet Scott of Carryckcastle. Far from home, Lily and Jennet will each learn the price of pursuing their dreams and the possibility of true love.
But it’s Hannah herself who must risk everything once more—this time to save Daniel, who’s been taken prisoner by the British. As the distant thunder of war threatens Paradise, Hannah may learn to live—and maybe love—again in one final act of courage, duty, and sacrifice.
Queen of Swords #5:
It is the late summer of 1814, and Hannah Bonner and her half brother Luke have spent more than a year searching the islands of the Caribbean for Luke’s wife and the man who abducted her. But Jennet’s rescue, so long in coming, is not the resolution they’d hoped for. In the spring she had given birth to Luke’s son, and in the summer Jennet had found herself compelled to surrender the infant to a stranger in the hope of keeping him safe.
To claim the child, Hannah, Luke, and Jennet must journey first to Pensacola. There they learn a great deal about the family that has the baby. The Poiterins are a very rich, very powerful Creole family, totally without scruple. The matriarch of the family has left Pensacola for New Orleans and taken the child she now claims as her great-grandson with her.
New Orleans is a city on the brink of war, a city where prejudice thrives and where Hannah, half Mohawk, must tread softly. Careful plans are made as the Bonners set out to find and reclaim young Nathaniel Bonner. Plans that go terribly awry, isolating them from each other in a dangerous city at the worst of times.
Sure that all is lost, and sick unto death, Hannah finds herself in the care of a family and a friend from her past, Dr. Paul de Guise Savard Saint-dâ-Uzet. It is Dr. Savard and his wife who save Hannah’s life, but Dr. Savard’s half brother who offers her real hope. Jean-Benoit Savard, the great-grandson of French settlers, slaves, and Choctaw and Seminole Indians, is the one man who knows the city well enough to engineer the miracle that will reunite the Bonners and send them home to Lake in the Clouds. With Ben Savard’s guidance, allies are drawn from every segment of New Orleans’s population and from Andrew Jackson’s army, now pouring into the city in preparation for what will be the last major battle of the War of 1812.
The Endless Forest #6:
The spring of 1824 is a challenging one for the inhabitants of Paradise N.Y. when a flood devastates the village. But for Nathaniel and Elizabeth Bonner, it’s also a time of reunion as their children return from far-off places: Lily and her husband from Italy, and Martha Kirby, the Bonners’ ward, from Manhattan. Although Lily is nursing her own grief, it is Martha, fleeing a crushing humiliation, who brings with her trouble that will reverberate in all their lives.
In the sudden peace that follows the storm, as families struggle to rebuild, childhood friends Martha and Daniel, Lily’s twin brother, suddenly begin to see each other in a new light. But their growing bond is threatened when Martha’s mother arrives back in Paradise a decade after abandoning her daughter. Jemima Southern is a dangerous schemer who has destroyed more than one family, and her anger touches everyone, as do her secrets. Has Jemima come to claim her daughter–or does she have something else in mind? Whatever happens, Martha and Daniel and all the Bonners must stand united against the threats to both heart and home.
The Wilderness Series by Sara Donati is available in both print and ebook.