Book Review: The Wood's Edge (The Path Finders #1, 2015) by Lori Benton
Fort William Henry, Lake George, New York, 1757
When Reginald Aubrey holds the cooling body of his hour old infant son in his arms he is left with a choice. He can either tell his unconscious wife that their son has died or he can kidnap a boy from a set of newborn twins born within minutes of his own son. The twins' mother is a white woman who had been captured as a small child by a tribe of American Indians and raised Oneida. Her children are half white/half Indian, except that one boy has pale eyes, pale skin, and blonde hair, just like his mother. What Reginald Aubrey decided that day set in motion a chain of events that he could never have anticipated. A stolen son who can hardly look at without feeling shame, a rescued baby girl a few months older than that son who he grows to love more fiercely than the boy who is supposed to be of his own blood, and the desperate vengeance felt by the Oneida family who is missing one of their own, who they call He-is-Taken.
Given enough time, a person's perception of something can change. I started reading The Wood's Edge sometime in the fall last year, but the timing wasn't right. I couldn't focus on the book with any level of credible enjoyment so I did the wisest thing I could do under the circumstances; I sent it back to the library unread and figured I would try again later. Today is later, and fortunately for me, I loved every moment of The Wood's Edge. Having already read Ms. Benton's debut novel, Burning Sky, and her subsequent novel The Pursuit of Tamsen Littlejohn I knew to expect high quality. However, I really didn't think anything could come close to my love for Burning Sky, but The Wood's Edge sneaked in there and stole my heart, not quite topping her debut novel, but coming close.
What is it about Lori Benton's books? Maybe it's that she reads 5 gazillion history books to get the setting right. Or it could just be that she knows all the right thing to do in all the right ways to squeeze her characters just right. She develops her characters, forces the reader to love them, and then puts through the rigorous pain that is daily life. Lies and deceit have consequences. Not everything ends up rosily perfect. And because I, as the reader, fear for these characters that I love by chapter 4, I can't put the book down, even when terror takes hold that something TERRIBLE is going to happen.
Or it could be something as basic as I love American Indian literary characters. When they're done right. Which they are when Lori Benton gets her hands on them. The Oneida Indian family won me over: Good Voice the grieving mother, Stone Thrower the vengeful father, and Two Hawks the lonely twin of William, the stolen son who they named He-is-Taken. I was invested in Good Voice's pain from the very beginning and since Two Hawks is a major player in the story, he won my heart from the time he was a small child. He is both courageous and merciful and learns to put forgiveness ahead of vengeance.
Then of course, there's the cameo appearance of Joseph Tames-His-Horse who I LOVED in Burning Sky. Seriously, I loved him, and so meeting a teenage Tames-His-Horse and seeing his conversion to Christianity and finding out how he came by his Christian name, Joseph, is amazing. I love that she included him in The Wood's Edge, love, love, love it.
Then you have the Aubrey family with poor Reginald denying himself joy because the guilt of what he's done and the fear of retribution eats away at him every day. Lydia, the girl who was 14-years-old when the reader met her and whose teenage crush on Reginald is endearing, as well as her loyalty to the little infant girl he saved from the massacre at Fort William Henry. One child come by honestly and the other stolen. And dear Anna, who loves her Papa Reginald so very much, but finds her heart tripping over the Indian boy who looks so very like William, who she calls brother. As Anna and Two Hawks grow up together, him visiting her for news of William (because the Oneida family does discover his whereabouts), Two Hawks and Anna find affection that blossoms into love. Now THAT is what I call romantic.
One interesting part of the story is that we don't know William all that well. He's in England for school through much of this book, and when he returns he's a man fully grown with his own ideas about colonial uprisings and rebellions. It's tempting to dislike him because he seems brainwashed by the British, but at the same time his relationship with his father was never solid because of Reginald's guilt over how he obtained William. Being the 1st book in a series, The Wood's Edge does not tie up William's story neatly; that will have to wait for A Flight of Arrows, book 2.
I've been trying to find a good word for my feelings regarding Lori Benton's work, and it isn't easy. Her work is spiritually fulfilling in a way that a lot of Christian fiction lacks. She manages to share the gospel without really quoting the Bible verbatim or being too preachy, yet her conversion scenes are some of the most poignant I've ever read. These are real people coming to know a Savior who is also my Savior. I understand their feelings, their concerns, and the overwhelming joy in their Creator. It's beautiful imagery, and the way Ms. Benton describes it, those conversion scenes are straight out of reality.
Anyway, I think I've rambled on long enough. All of the characters in this book felt realistic; even the ones I didn't fully like, I still understood their perspective. Ms. Benton's prose is still top of the line, flowing with beautiful imagery that just sucks the reader so far into the story it's like you're there. If you haven't read any of Lori Benton's books before, The Wood's Edge is a terrific place to start. Enjoy! ❤