Friday, March 12, 2010

Historical Fiction Book Review - LEWIS & CLARK! (Part I)

"I don't often read novels, but when I do, I prefer Dos Equis" - Jim Schmidt, "The Most Interesting Man in The World."

WAIT! That's not right! (although I do LOVE Dos Equis) What I meant to say is that I don't often read novels, but when I do I prefer **historical fiction**. And - as it turns out - I recently finished a TERRIFIC book in that genre, To The Ends of The Earth: The Last Journey of Lewis & Clark by Frances Hunter (Blind Rabbit Press, 2006). What's more, the author has recently released a new book: The Fairest Portion of the Globe (Feb 2010, Blind Rabbit Press).

Below is my brief review of the book (bottom line: HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!)

I had the great pleasure of meeting Frances Hunter when I spoke about Lincoln's Labels: America's Best Known Brands and the Civil War to the Austin (TX) Civil War Round Table in December 2009. The first thing you need to know is that "Frances Hunter" is actually two people! They are sisters Mary and Liz Clare and are active members of the Round Table.
Mary and Liz live in Austin, Texas (with their bunny "Junebug" and their old beagle "Belle"). Mary works as a senior systems analyst for the University of Texas, and Liz works as a digital projects specialist at the Texas State Library and Archives.
Before the meeting, Mary and Liz introduced themselves and their new book, Fairest Portion of the Globe. Several members of the Round Table gave glowing recommendations of their first book, To The Ends of the Earth, so what else could I do but get the book at the earliest opportunity?! I'm so glad that I did. The book is just wonderful. I compare it to others of my favorite books of historical/literary fiction: The Dante Club, The Pale Blue Eye (my favorite!), and - especially - The Poe Shadow.
The Poe Shadow is about one of America's great mysteries - the death of Edgar Allan Poe. Similarly, To The Ends of the Earth is about an equally famous (and equally mysterious) death - that of Meriweather Lewis. Most historians consider his death a suicide, but there is enough debate to warrant other possibilities (or conspiracies?!) - and with that we have To the Ends of the Earth! The book is described as follows:
"St. Louis, 1809. Three years after the triumphal return of the Lewis & Clark Expedition, Meriwether Lewis never felt less like a hero. Trapped in a thankless political job, he's drinking too much and spending money like there's no tomorrow. When he's called to a mysterious meeting, Lewis hopes for a new adventure that will turn his life around. Instead, he finds himself drawn into a conspiracy to put him and William Clark at the head of a new American empire. Lewis has his faults, but he's no traitor ... and suddenly Lewis the explorer becomes the hunted. As for Clark, he's willing to risk everything to save his best friend from dishonor and disgrace. In the end, neither man can imagine the price to pay for their loyalty to each other and to their country. History and fiction merge seamlessly in this thrilling historical novel based on one of America's greatest unsolved mysteries. Lewis and Clark's last journey is a classic story of honor, vengeance, and redemption."
It's a great read on many levels! First, it's great to read stories of men who are close friends rather than the modern tendency to concentrate on the individual. Second, the main characters are not caricatures - they are multi-faceted (with one exception, I would say); they are good men, with some "warts." It makes it that more believable. Third - speaking of "believability" - that was indeed the best part of the book from beginning to was authentic! A good part of the story takes place in St. Louis, a city that I think is (unfortunately) somtimes overlooked for its importance in early American history in favor of cities in the northeast. Finally, the book is quite exciting.
I will defintely read The Fairest Portion of the Globe and am looking forward to their work-in-progress: Bloody Island, a book about young army engineer Robert E. Lee, 1838 St. Louis, and a crisis that could leave the city "high and dry." Throw in corruption, conspiracy, and deception, and it sounds like another great story!
Mary and Liz were kind enough to answer my questions about their writing and especially about "authenticity"...I will post the interview tomorrow along with rules for a contest to win a free copy of The Fairest Portion of the Globe!
Until, then enjoy these GREAT book trailers (click to play):

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