A Quaker’s faith is tested during the War of 1812 in this “stunning work of historical fiction” (Kirkus Reviews, starred review).
Mark Greenhow, a naive and peaceful Quaker, lands on the shores of North America on the eve of the War of 1812, thinking only of finding the missing sister, a missionary whose adventurous spirit he has always admired. His pursuit begins by hitching a ride with the voyageurs who have canoed the rivers, transporting the tons of furs that feed the trade that has made the region a battleground of the French and British empires.
Though Mark enters this brave new world with his conscience clean and his convictions sound, his encounters with a place and people he never could have imagined test his rigid upbringing. The backwoods of Canada have certainly led his sister astray; she has been excommunicated from the Society of Friends for running off with a non-Quaker. After her child is stillborn she runs again, deep into Indian country. On this increasingly desperate search, Mark finds himself among spies and domestic warriors, displaced natives, infidels, and the pious each engaged in their own battles to maintain their particular way of life.
With Elphinstone’s crisp and effortless prose, coupled with her riveting, organic way with description, her fully drawn characters, and the history of the region, she “brings the landscapes and peoples of 1800s Canada back to thrilling life in her pacy, colorful and intelligent epic: the finest trip along these rivers since Brian Moore’s great Black Robe” (The Independent).
Presented as a manuscript discovered by the author in the attic of her country house in the North of England, this meticulously crafted, self-reflexive historical novel tells the story of Mark Greenhow, whose Quaker family once owned the house. In 1811, Mark's younger sister, Rachel, while doing missionary work in Canada, met and married Adam Mackenzie, a Scot associated with the fur trade in North America. Because the marriage was outside the order, Rachael was disowned; subsequently, she lost her baby and mysteriously disappeared into the wilds of what is today northern Michigan. Determined to discover his sister's fate, Mark departs for Canada, where he spends nearly two years sorely testing his Quaker faith through episodes that reveal to him the wider world beyond his placid English countryside. In the meantime, the War of 1812 rages and Mark tries to avoid the kinds of "vain" entanglements that would contradict his beliefs. The inclusion of Mark's own footnotes, lengthy discourses and commentary on his adventures and their aftermath lessens the story's suspense. The novel's interest lies in Mark's struggle to reconcile his faith with the verities and practicalities of the "real world" and in Elphinstone's mastery of early 19th-century argot.