[Review] A Light in the Wilderness by Jane Kirkpatrick

Posted 8 September, 2014 by DLWhite in Reviews, Writers Read 0 Comments

A Light in the Wilderness Book Cover A Light in the Wilderness
Jane Kirkpatrick
September 2, 2014

Letitia holds nothing more dear than the papers that prove she is no longer a slave. They may not cause white folks to treat her like a human being, but at least they show she is free. She trusts in those words she cannot read--as she is beginning to trust in Davey Carson, an Irish immigrant cattleman who wants her to come west with him. Nancy Hawkins is loathe to leave her settled life for the treacherous journey by wagon train, but she is so deeply in love with her husband that she knows she will follow him anywhere--even when the trek exacts a terrible cost. Betsy is a Kalapuya Indian, the last remnant of a once proud tribe in the Willamette Valley in Oregon territory. She spends her time trying to impart the wisdom and ways of her people to her grandson. But she will soon have another person to care for. As season turns to season, suspicion turns to friendship, and fear turns to courage, three spirited women will discover what it means to be truly free in a land that makes promises it cannot fulfill. This multilayered story from bestselling author Jane Kirkpatrick will grip readers' hearts and minds as they travel with Letitia on the dusty and dangerous Oregon trail into the boundless American West.

When I was invited by the publisher to read this book via an offer from NetGalley, I only hesitated for a second. I’m a sucker for historical fiction, set in the US in the 1800’s. Add a beautiful cover and an intriguing blurb and I am game.

That said, had this not been based on a true story, I probably would have stopped set it aside, rolling my eyes at the story of a freed slave marrying a white Irish immigrant and setting off with him across the country, where along the way they meet and commune with several other friendly whites who treat Leticia Carson like family. I know enough of my history to know that sympathetic friends would have been hard to come by.

Knowing that this novel was built on the backs of history made it worthwhile to push through, to read of the trek from Missouri to Oregon, and more importantly to explore the bonds of friendship and relationship where the law stood in the way. Davey and Leticia were married in words only… though she was free, he could never claim her as his wife. Several moments of foreshadowing ring Letitica’s fears about what could happen to her, their property, the life they’d built, should something happen to Davey.

The most irritating character throughout this book was Davey. I couldn’t figure out his motivation for doing the things he did, saying the things he said. He lied, he took shortcuts, he left his family in grave peril for the hollow promises of money and riches. I also didn’t understand his reluctance to make Leticia feel safe and secured. Surely she made her preferences known but he continually brushed her off as if her feelings weren’t important. With so many against their union lurking in the shadows, I felt Davey was irresponsible and cowardly when it came to caring for his wife. She risked so much to be with him.

This novel was well written, a bit slow in pacing and changing POV a few times, which I found refreshing. I was just thinking about the Grapes of Wrath the other day… this book reminds me a lot of that novel– a family venturing west for a better life, meeting joy and tragedy along the way. This was an excellent read.

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