BURNING SKY by Lori Benton is a captivating historical epic novel set in the post-Revolutionary War era. This debut novel won the Grace Awards 2013 in the Action-Adventure/Western/Epic Fiction category. The novel’s historical accuracy is obvious, as well as the author’s knowledge of the Native American tribes then living in New York State. The author’s expressive prose paints a vibrant picture of life at that time. This novel would be a valuable addition to any homeschooling curriculum.
Ms. Benton moves the characters from one element of the story to the next with great skill. The author did a superb job when Burning Sky, who had been captured as a young lass by northern New York State tribes, returns home to her family’s cabin and transitions back to thinking and speaking more and more in English as she tries to resume her former identity as Willa Obenchein. She is stunned to find her family’s cabin empty, abandoned, and in disrepair. She’s even more stunned to find some have called into question her parents loyalty to the colonial-cause during the war. She’s a woman caught between two worlds. Though not surprised when some settlers treated her with open hostility, it instills fear in her and increases her wariness. She is the type of character the reader cares about from page one.
Willa has experienced a number of losses throughout her life, most significantly, the death of the two children she bore to her deceased Native American husband. She is determined to guard her heart and keep it closed to avoid getting hurt again. However, hard she tries to shut herself off from emotional entanglements, she finds life will have its way.
The characters, even the secondary and minor ones, feel believable and authentic to the period. Many of whom bear deep and painful scars due to the brutal battles on the frontier, with both the British and Americans having committed atrocities. This is a multi-faceted novel presenting a story of bitterness, suspicion, and determination that turns into one of love, forgiveness, and restoration.
Neil MacGregor and Joseph Tames His Horse, two very different men, with dissimilar strengths, both devout Christians, vie for the love of Willa/Burning Sky. The portrayal of Neil’s strength through his deep faith was done superbly, without even the slightest hint of preaching, and was organic to the story. The author does a marvelous job keeping the reader guessing how this love-triangle will turn out. The villains are not stereotypes, but rather are well fleshed out. One of them skillfully and horrifically manipulates events. While his younger brother, who has developmental challenges, is a touching character crafted with depth. I highly recommend this book to readers from age fourteen to one-hundred and fourteen.