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Heidi Hart

By day, I'm a domestic violence prosecutor. By night, I read romance to restore my faith in love, relationships, and humanity in general. 

Forgot to Bring the Feels

Into the Wilderness - Sara Donati

I wanted to like this much more than I actually did. It came highly recommended by a good friend from college, and I'm always sorry when friends and family recommend books to me and I end up not sharing the love. The other reason I really wanted to like this is that it's clear the author did a TON of research. This book is set mostly in the early 1790s in the wilds of upstate New York. The protagonist, Elizabeth, comes from England hoping to find more freedom for women in the New World, but alas, her father has plans to marry her off to extricate himself from financial difficulties. Elizabeth foils his plot when she elopes with Nathaniel Bonner, a white man raised by Native Americans and the son of Dan'l Bonner, whom readers may recognize as the character played by Daniel Day-Lewis in Last of the Mohicans (and in James Fenimore Cooper's book by the same name). (The Publisher's Blurb touts this as a sequel to Last of the Mohicans, but it really isn't: Donati borrows some characters for cameos -- including bizarre, distracting appearances by Ian Murray and Claire Fraser of Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series -- but the story is her own.)


Anyway, as I was saying, Donati plainly did sh*t-tons of research before sitting down to write this epic: she clearly knows what was going on in the English society Elizabeth left, in the rugged settlements white farmers were carving out on the western frontiers of the fledgling United States, in the Mohawk and Mohican cultures threatened by those white settlers, and even a little bit about the Jacobite uprising in Scotland and the French Revolution that were shaping European politics and whose impact was felt even in the New World. In addition to these global developments, Donati demonstrates an impressive grasp of microcosmic detail as well -- she describes white settlers' homes and Native longhouses (and all the sights and scents therein) with equal vibrancy, and how to track, kill, preserve, and prepare big game, and includes countless other details that bring history to life.


... And yet, for all that, I found this epic (and at 877 pages, "epic" is not an overstatement) to be rather bloodless and cold. I'm the kind of person who cries at sappy greeting card commercials. I'd guess, on average, romance novels bring me to tears at least twice a month. It isn't hard. Into the Wilderness had plenty of plot twists that should have turned on my water faucets -- there are perils, there are cruel injustices, there are deaths of blameless innocents -- and yet I was unmoved. Donati's attention to historical detail may actually have been part of the book's undoing: she is so busy telling the reader all about the setting and the history and the minute details, that she forgets to bring the feels, to show why we should feel invested in her characters' lives and struggles.


I liked Elizabeth and Nathaniel, but their love didn't engage my emotions. Honestly, it had an insta-love feel to it (which is hard to explain since they didn't marry until about 300 pages into the book), but from their first meetings, Elizabeth aligned her loyalties and her trust with Nathaniel even above her family, in a way that seemed precipitous. (Not so much why she wouldn't trust her family -- her father and brother are pompous fatheads -- but why she should ally herself with Nathaniel on such short acquaintance.)


The failure to engage the reader's emotions persisted throughout the entire book, and while I was interested in the story, now that I've finished it, I don't care what became of the characters and I likely won't read the rest of the books in the series.