by Sara Donati,
read by Kate Reading
This is the sixth and final book in Sara Donati's Wilderness series, historical fiction set in upstate New York spanning the period from late 1792 to mid 1824 - the latter year being when this book takes place. The setting moves back to the location of the first book, the mythical town of Paradise, in the Adirondacks near Lake George and Saratoga, both of which I have visited.
The romance focus in this book is on Elizabeth & Nathaniel Bonner's son Daniel, who lost the use of his left arm in the War of 1812, and Martha Kirby, recently returned from living in Manhattan a number of years. I decided to classify this book as a historical romance rather than historical fiction - because sex is a big part of this book, and the historical setting is not as relevant to the plot.
What does drive the plot is the return of the notorious troublemaker, Jemima Southern Kuick Wilde Focht, Martha's mother, and the stepmother of Martha's former best friend, orchard owner Callie Wilde. The fear that Jemima might lay claim to Martha's inheritance from her father Liam Kirby, or to Callie's orchard, drives Daniel and Martha to go to nearby Johnstown to quickly marry, followed by Callie and Daniel's cousin Ethan Middleton. The marriage of the latter two is for friendship and protection, as Callie fears she will pass on her mother's mental decline to any children.
Jemima left Paradise eleven years before pregnant by Callie's father, and claims that the little boy she brings with her, named Nicholas Wilde for his father, is both Martha's and Callie's half-brother. Callie, desperate for the family she's lost and knows she will not have otherwise, accepts him as such, but Martha and the rest of Paradise adults are more cautious - especially since Jemima goes away and leaves Nicholas behind along with a couple black servants, who play a part in the story.
I never quite understood how Jemima could possibly claim the orchard for her son. In Fire Along the Sky, the fourth book in the series, Jemima sells the orchard unbeknownst to Callie's father (which leads to his death), and leaves town with the money. Callie later buys the orchard back, so it seems to me that she should be the owner outright, and not have to fear any claims from her half-brother or former stepmother.
Otherwise, the book brings us up-to-date on the lives of other members of the extended Bonner family and their friends. Both oldest son Luke Bonner's wife Jennet, and Daniel's twin Lily are pregnant - Lily with her first after many miscarriages. Gabe Bonner marries his childhood playmate Annie, a Mohawk, in secret at the beginning of the book. And ten-year-old Curiosity "Birdie" Bonner, the youngest child, tells much of the story from her viewpoint.
Jemima comes back again at the end of the book, and that plot line gets resolved. Donati ends the book (and series) with an epilogue in the form of newspaper articles and advertisements - including obituaries - that span the next twenty years. Some deaths are to be expected, given the ages of the characters, some are surprises. In a comment to a reviewer upset with this epilogue, Donati said,
I certainly wasn't bored with the series, but I did know that Bantam [the publisher] wouldn't give me a contract for another book in the series. That made the novel especially difficult to write, both technically and emotionally. I felt obligated to bring everyone to a fairly stable place.
I was fine with the epilogue. Many of the characters that survive past 1843 - and their descendants - show up in the first book in Donati's next series, set in New York City forty years later, in 1883, The Gilded Hour.
Kate Reading's narration of the audiobook was superb as usual.
© Amanda Pape - 2017
[The e-audiobook, and a print copy for reference, were borrowed from and returned to public libraries.]