Beverly Swerling

"Shadowbrook"

(Reviewed by Jennifer LeBlanc MAY 7, 2005)

To call Beverly Swerling’s new novel sweeping is an understatement. Set during the rarely touched French/Indian War, the story is packed with characters and the personal and political events that transform them.

Though the story jumps from place to place, at its heart is the Hale patent, roughly a hundred thousand acres of New York that bridges what was once Ohio Country and French Canada. Every inch of North American land was up for grabs by the French, Indians and English, and every battle won brought each that much closer to controlling it all. But that patent is, for the most part, a block of peace for its inhabitants. The Adirondacks are to the west, the Hudson the East and Lake George, then called Bright Fish Water, was part of the patent. Shadowbrook is its main house, where step-brothers Quentin Hale and Cormac Shea were raised. Quentin is the younger of the only two surviving Hale heirs. Cormac is the son of an Irish father and the elder Hale’s Potawatomi mistress who, against Mrs. Hale’s wishes, lives on the patent. Despite this, Mrs. Hale considers Cormac to be her own son, educating him and Quentin during the winter. During summer, the Potawatomi would come for Cormac to teach him the other ways. Quentin was allowed too, forging a connection between the brothers and giving each a foot in both worlds- that of the Cmokmanuk, or white people, and the Anishinabeg or Real People, the Indians. This unorthodox childhood turns them into the “two most fiercest woodsmen in America.”

Swerling introduces the two as adults in the Ohio forest where Quentin, forsaking a gentlemen’s existence at Shadowbrook, is working with the English army, led by a young George Washington. After a time in Canada, Cormac is back in America to bring Quentin back to Shadowbrook for the death of his father. He is also keeping a promise to a late friend by delivering his daughter, Nicole Crane, to the Poor Clare’s sisterhood in Quebec. Of a French mother and English father, Nicole is decidedly French, and determined to take her vows in a French land. (The first gory massacre is detailed as the brothers meet --scenes not meant for the squeamish.) First she visits Shadowbrook and falls in love with Quentin. Their time on the patent brings in the many characters whose memories and roles on the plantation begin to flood the pages. Nicole, with the reader, meets the elder Hale’s, Quentin’s cruel older brother John (along with his particularly brutal treatment of slaves), a family of Quakers who mine the trading post and the slaves who, in Quentin’s unconventional view, are like family to him. Their neutral place in America is disturbed by Hamish Stewart, a Scotsman angry with the English for the Culloden Moor slaughter in which he lost an eye and many countrymen. Stewart makes a deal with the priest at the Poor Clare’s monastery to attack the English Hale land, paving the way for the French to gain more land and for Stewart to own the patent.

Swerling digs into every aspect of the time period and its events. Slavery, religion, Indian culture, and the “birth of America,” a new world where the power of the land could transform its inhabitants: “…by nurture and instinct they were what the land… had made them: Americans, accustomed to living beside people who where different from themselves and to following their own rules.” Quentin Hale likes to call himself a man of “many sorts… I believe it’s called being an American.”

Swerling’s thorough research and attention to detail make this a fascinating read. She gives an abbreviated but still overwhelming list of consulted books, and credits the internet for much of her knowledge. She calls it an “indispensable resource… of Native American languages, reproduction of maps and documents.” For battle scenes, she went beyond the printed word to historical re-enactors. This is definitely a book for history buffs.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 29 reviews


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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)

Originally published as Beverly S Martin:

  • Juffie Kane (1989, October 2013)
  • Molly Pride (1992, July 2013)

 

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Book Marks:

 

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About the Author:

Beverly SwerlingBeverly Swerling is a writer, consultant, and amateur historian. She has lived all over the world and currently lives in New York City with her husband.

 

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