Into the Wilderness (Wilderness Saga 1)

Into the Wilderness - Sara Donati The book had blurbs praising it from romance writers Diana Gabaldon and Amanda Quick and the trade magazine Romantic Times. Not a good sign I'd like it, if this was being marketed to those who frequent the romance aisle. The prose was more readable than most books I've read marketed as romance, even if hardly stellar, but what killed this novel for me is how it takes the "historical" out of historical fiction. This is set in the New York frontier in 1793, dealing with the twenty-nine-year-old Elizabeth Middleton. Raised in England, she's come to America hoping to set up a school. New York is my own state, and the idea of a novel set there during that period intrigued me. However, two examples of a lack of grounding in the period stood out to me before the fifty page mark. The first is when a woman talks about how they could use a "schoolmarm." The fact is during the colonial and Federal period, school teachers in America were overwhelmingly under twenty-five, White and male. Not only wouldn't a person assume a teacher would be female--the feminization of the profession didn't begin until late in the 19th Century--but Miss Middleton would invariably have stirred up opposition because of her gender. Back then women weren't thought to have the authority or strength to control a classroom with children older than eight. Also, at a certain point, Nathaniel Bonner, (seemingly patterned after Cooper's Nathaniel Bumppo) calls Elizabeth a "bluestocking," and she doesn't know what that is. The term was common in Britain in the period. I've seen people poo poo this kind of criticism. It's just fiction they cry. Nonsense! Part of successful fiction is that you don't jar a reader out of their willing suspension of disbelief; and the appeal of historical fiction is the sense you're entering into another time and place, not reading about modern people in costumes. This isn't to say some allowances shouldn't be made and some mistakes forgiven. Elizabeth Middleton from the beginning struck me as far too modern in her sensibilities--she doesn't seem to care about class or race and wants to keep her independence and remain unmarried. I'm willing to allow that; her mother was said to be a Quaker, so a reader can allow Elizabeth some nonconformity, but I could never settle in comfortably into a belief in the tale, which quickly shaped up to be a rather formulaic romance riffing off Last of the Mohicans with guest starring appearances from Jamie and Clare of Outlander and cameo roles from Jane Austen's novels. (Poor Jane Bingley, forced to appear in such a tawdry bodice-ripper.) This novel reads like really, really bad fan fiction, one that impoverishes rather than enriches the originals.