Two new books of historical fiction that just arrived this week take different and intriguing looks at the turn of the century in western America, the costs of conquest and the struggles to create the American dream.
The Bones of Paradise by Jonis Agee takes us to the Nebraska Sand Hills at the beginning of the 20th century, ten years after the massacre at Wounded Knee. Two people, a white man named J.B. Bennett and a Lakota woman named Star, are found murdered in a meadow belonging to J. B. What is the connection between the two of them? Who killed them and why? As J. B.’s broken family comes together to investigate and to figure out their futures in the aftermath of the violence, so Star’s sister, Rose, also comes to the land to come to terms with her loss, and to avenge her sister’s death after all the other deaths and dislocations she and her people have suffered in recent years. Shadowed by the violence and lawlessness of the frontier and a strong sense of place, The Bones of Paradise makes us look again at where we are and how we got here, and at what cost the west was “won.”
Traveling north, To the Bright Edge of the World, by Eowyn Ivey, is set just after the acquisition of Alaska by the United States, in 1885. Lieutenant Colonel Allen Forrester leaves his pregnant wife behind when he is ordered to explore the area of the Wolverine River in Alaska, mapping the interior of the country and finding out about the native wildlife and the inhabitants of the area. He and his men soon discover that there is much they don’t know about Alaska, about the people and the animals living there, and their mysterious Eyak guide and the native woman who joins the expedition change their perspective, not only on what is dangerous and what isn’t, but on what is real and what isn’t. Ivey is the author of The Snow Child, a gorgeous book in its own right, also set in the wild places of Alaska, so this book is likely to be another immersive experience taking us to places and mindsets we won’t find anywhere else (if you haven’t already read The Snow Child, what are you waiting for? Go and get your hands on a copy! It’s especially good reading in the hottest parts of summer).