Sunday, August 16, 2015

Burning Sky by Lori Benton

  I don't how many white settlers, especially children, were actually kidnapped by Indians and then lived among them for months or even years, but that premise has been the source for several books.  Some that I have read have been based on real people, but I never encountered a nonfiction book or a fiction one with solid facts backing it up.  When I started reading BURNING SKY, I knew the story was fiction and I had some other novels to compare it to, but I had the slight wish that someday I would read an authentic tale about a white being taken into the Indian world.  Despite that, I found this a delightful read. Benton's book does not cover the actual years character Willa Obenchain spent with her Mohawk captors, instead, her depiction is of Burning Sky/Willa's return to her parent's New York cabin.  Benton has created a story with believable emotional and cultural conflict.  Having recently lost her Mohawk husband and their two little daughters, Willa feels her life with the Mohawks is over.  When the group must move, Willa does not leave with them and she is not stopped from finding her way back to New York.  On the way there, she comes across an injured Scotsman whom she rescues.  With Willa's parents missing and reported to have been Tory sympathizers, Willa feels that she does not really belong to her old settler life, but she remains at the cabin to nurse Scotsman Neil McGregor.  When an old childhood friend reports that her parents farm will be seized and that he plans to take it over, Willa is determined to stay and fight for what her father had pioneered, but her decision is complicated by the arrival of Tames His Horse, her Indian clan "brother."  Clearly the two have love for each other, but because she was adopted into his clan, they could never have a relationship in the native world.

The backdrop for this intriguing story is rich in historical details. Benton has made Tames His Horse a Christian believer, having been introduced to God by Anglican missionary Samuel Kirkland.  Although the real Kirkland did not preach among the Mohawks, he did convert many Indians.  Also explained was why Tames His Horse, a Mohawk, would have worked with the British (he located and returned deserters) while other Indian nations would have sided with the colonists.   When I finished the novel, I finished I had read good story, but I also felt I understood late 1700s New York and our young country much better.  Since writing BURNING SKY, Benton has written two more historical fiction books with Native American characters.  I plan to add them to my reading list.  I obtained my copy of BURNING SKY through the Winnefox Library System.

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