#Review #BeyondTheWildRiver #SarahMaine
This book just looked so deliciously intriguing and atmospheric I couldn't help requesting it.
Maine's first book, The House Between Tides is now on my TBR (currently £1.89 bargain from Amazon amazon link here ) but I had it marked to read since I had first read reviews about it last year, so there was no way I could ignore Beyond The Wild River on NetGalley!
Just as the cover promises, this is a lovely, historical story full of drama, romance and adventure. The characters are interesting, well drawn, well developed and definitely worth investing in. The social and historical context is very well evoked with plenty of attention to detail without detracting from the plot.
This is the story of 19 year old Evelyn Ballantyre who has grown up on her family's estate in the Scottish borders.
"Buried in the rural fastness of a Borders estate, miles from Edinburgh, she was left for weeks on end with only the dullest of companions, an occasional drawing master and an enfeebled tutor who taught her classics."
Her father is a respected magistrate and travels frequently to Edinburgh.
"The world thought well of Charles Ballantyre, seeing in him a man of unshakeable integrity, a champion of penal reform, a generous benefactor who used his money and his influence to further just causes."
But there is more to this man - things are not as straight forward or as clear cut as he projects through his public image. Just as Evelyn works hard to disguise her terror at the thought of marriage and a lifetime of boredom tied to a Border estate, Ballantyre disguises his influence over and manipulation of other people to hide darker events he wants kept out of the public eye.
The relationship between the father and daughter is really interesting. Maine investigates how it changes and develops throughout the novel as events affect both characters which in turn affects how they feel towards each other. It is a beautifully explored relationship and looks at the complexities, choices and dilemmas faced by both father and daughter as they learn more about the world and each other.
At the beginning of the novel, Evelyn fears that her father doesn't consider her feelings or her future, assuming that "she would marry some neighbour's son....and live out her days on a similar estate, while the world passed her by." She has always done her duty as a daughter and hides her resentments and frustrations which are growing underneath. Then one day, an innocent friendship with a servant is misinterpreted by her father as an illicit union. She is mortified and appalled but the consequences of this event are one that she welcomes - the chance to accompany her father to America.
However, initially all this trip seems to do is remind her of her father's dedication to business. As soon as she arrives she is passed over to the care of the wife of one of her father's associates while he goes into the city on business.
"He had remained quite oblivious to her, as he was to anything beyond his own world. A world of business. A man's world."
Evelyn is a fiery character who is refreshing in her attempts to seek adventure in a new and rapidly changing world. But she is also an emotional and thoughtful character. She is reflective and considers all she learns as she tries to work out how she feels about her father and James the more she discovers about them and the more she grows to understand about the complexities and relationships between people. I liked her character a lot. This is an historical novel but her character will appeal to today's readers and is also relevant.
Alongside the story of Evelyn and Ballantyre runs the story of James and Jacko. James Douglas is a servant who disappeared from the Ballantyre estate after the shootings of a poacher and gamekeeper. James was believed responsible although Evelyn had never believed it. When Ballantyre takes his daughter (and their friends) on a fishing expedition to the Nipigon River in Canada, they are greeted by their guide - James Douglas. Now, away from the constraints of polite society the truth about what happened with the poacher and the gamekeeper are set to be revealed- along with the truth about James and Ballantyre .....
I enjoyed the contrasting story line of James and Jacko against that of the Ballantyre family. There is a time shift to get used to but I liked reading more about the relationship was between James and Jacko, more about James' past and character as well as getting another point of view towards Charles Ballantyre. I really enjoyed Jacko's metaphor of the oak tree (Ballantyre) and the willow tree (Jacko). Too long to quote here, but as well as effectively establishing character, it was also a very effective and insightful observation about social boundaries and attitudes to class.
The pleasing thing about this novel is that it has all the charming, interesting and atmospheric elements of a story set in this historical era. It has all the elements of a good commercial fiction novel - but with something extra. This novel is about coming of age, of forbidden relationships, about class and society's expectations but also there is an exploration of integrity, conscience, motivation and self interest. Ballantyne is a complex character and the reader is often challenged about how they should respond to him - as is his daughter. Maine is using the social and historical context to enhance the dynamics and relationships between the main characters and this adds a very gratifying angle and depth to the plot and the writing.
The location of Nipigon is fascinating - as is the description of America and the exhibition the characters visit before their fishing trip. The physical and geographical description is very vivid and atmospheric. I liked that the story took place in a slightly less predictable location and setting which enhanced the themes in the novel.
Maine has placed her characters in unfamiliar situations where the rules and social barriers are more blurred and then watches how they adapt, behave and what they reveal about themselves as well as the social and historical context. They are a long way from home but still haunted by events that happened there.
"How was it that one could feel exposed while at the same time claustrophobic and confused? In this wide, expansive land, she felt trapped."
There are several jumps forward and backwards in the narrative which did take a while to get used to but as I said, I enjoyed the split narrative between both Evelyn and James. I thought this was a charming, intriguing, well written story. There is a great balance of adventure, mystery and tension as well as plenty of character development and emotional relationships.
Beyond the Wild River is published on the 18th April.
Sarah Maine was born in England and emigrated to Canada with her family at the age of ten. A small northern Ontario community was home for the next two years before the family moved south, and Sarah went to high school in Toronto. She returned to England to study archaeology, stayed on to do research and work, married there and has two sons.
Books were always important. She grew up on a diet of Arthur Ransome and Robert Louis Stevenson but also the classics, Jane Austen and the Brontés and, of course, Daphne du Maurier - but now enjoys a wide range of contemporary fiction.
The House between Tides was published in 2016, and Beyond the Wild River in 2017. A third book, Ullaness, is work in progress.
For more recommendations from me, you can follow me on Twitter @KatherineSunde3 or via my website bibliomaniacuk.co.uk