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Thursday, August 12, 2010

'Dawn on a Distant Shore' Wilderness #2 by Sara DONATI

** Contains SPOILERS **

From the BLURB:

Sara Donati's novel Dawn on a Distant Shore picks up soon after the conclusion of her prior book, Into the Wilderness. In the winter of 1794, on the edge of the New York wilderness, Elizabeth and Nathaniel Bonner have settled into the comforts of domestic bliss. Typically, however, adventure seeks these two out. Alone but for her stepdaughter Hannah, Elizabeth gives birth to twins, while Nathaniel and his father Hawkeye are imprisoned in Montreal. Determined to help her men, Elizabeth packs up the children and sets off to free them. Liberty does not bring relief to the Bonner clan, however, as sinister forces conspire to pirate them to Scotland and embroil them in a complex family feud.

History and adventure are slathered on thickly throughout this epic tale. Donati's talent for dialect and detail bring the large cast of characters to life, though the steady pace of dramatic catastrophe is somewhat exhausting. Will our heroes never get a break? Fans of Donati's earlier work will enjoy seeing the familiar characters, but new readers would benefit by reading the books in the series in order.

Sara Donati’s second book in her ‘Wilderness’ series starts with Elizabeth Bonner’s dramatic labour to twins Lily and Daniel. It’s a wonderful opening chapter in which Elizabeth’s step-daughter, Hannah, has to deliver her half-siblings because a storm has kept Nathaniel away.
From there the pace only gains momentum as Nathaniel is forced to travel to Montreal and rescue his brother-in-law and father from gaol and the clutches of a conniving society darling.
But the rescue doesn’t go according to plan, and Elizabeth is forced to cart her twins, step-daughter and friend, Curiosity Freeman, across the Canadian wilderness to Montreal to retrieve her husband and assorted family members.
Things are made even more complicated as an English lord is likewise on the hunt for the Bonner men, Nathaniel and his father Daniel, to ensure they claim their rightful Scottish inheritance.

This book felt a lot like Diana Gabaldon’s third book ‘Voyager’. A lot of ‘Dawn’ takes place on the high seas, to eventually make port in Scotland. It was very reminiscent of ‘Voyager’; just in the fact that pirates and privateers pepper the cast, there’s a lot of ship-swapping to keep up with and hidden agendas to keep track of.

I was ultimately disappointed with this second instalment. Donati came close, but never quite met my expectations in ‘Dawn’. For one thing, in this book it felt as though Donati was skirting around certain issues and topics. The perfect example of this is in Giselle Somerville. Ms. Somerville is a woman from Nathaniel’s past, a Montreal society darling who seduced Nathaniel when they were both 17. Giselle was taken by Nathaniel’s Mohawk savageness, and since his departure from her bedchamber, Giselle has bedded a cachet of Indians and navy-men alike to satisfy her lustful curiosities. In ‘Dawn’ Giselle has turned her attention’s to Nathaniel’s brother-in-law, Otter, and Nathaniel is forced to travel to Montreal to recover the lad.

There’s a lot of unspoken baggage between Giselle and Nathaniel – both Nathaniel and his father, Daniel think on the affair... but they never *talk* about it. Elizabeth is especially intrigued by Giselle as a woman of her husband’s past... but she and Nathaniel never *talk* about her. It is very, very frustrating. And the lack of conversation serves to put distance between Elizabeth and Nathaniel. I started wondering why they weren’t being open and honest with one another – it may be an uncomfortable topic to discuss, but asking your significant other about their first loves and past relationships is a big and necessary conversational obstacle.

I do still love Nathaniel and Elizabeth – despite feeling a chasm of difference between them for everything they *didn’t* say, I still like them. In this book we glimpse what Elizabeth’s life could have been had she not left England for New-York, and it works to illustrate how much she has gained from Nathaniel.
“I’ll come back to you, Boots, and you’ll be healed and we’ll be together. It’ll be warm enough then in the cave. We’ll get to know each other again where we started, you and me. How does that sound?”
Elizabeth brushed the hair away from his face. “It sounds as if you should be up and away, so that you can come home again. ‘Journeys end in lovers meeting,’ after all.”
“That’s one quote I’ll remember.” Nathaniel laughed. “It’ll serve me well on the long road home.”
As much as I still loved the romance in ‘Dawn’, Donati literally ‘lost the plot’ in this second book. My biggest complaint was that a lot of the action seemed to take place off the page. There’s a big revelation half-way through the book that Giselle gave birth to Nathaniel’s son all those years ago. Nathaniel learns of his estranged child, and resolves to tell Elizabeth about the boy, Luke, and to decide with her whether or not he leaves the boy be or tracks him down. But we never read the scene in which Nathaniel breaks the news to Elizabeth that he has an illegitimate son. It is in the final pages that we read a letter claiming that the Bonner clan tracked Luke down, and bought him back to Hidden Wolf in New York for a time. It is an absolute travesty that we don’t get to read these scenes, that they are recounted to us in summary instead of scene. It is such a waste of intense dramatic scenes and a deplorable case of ‘telling, not showing’ and as a reader I feel terribly ripped-off by Donati.

I will continue with this series, but I have a touch of resentment toward Donati for dropping the ball with this second novel.



  1. Sorry you were disappointed. :( You kind of piqued my interested when you said the book reminds you of DG's Voyager though.

  2. hmmmmm yeah Im not really into this series =/

    great review though hon =)

    damn, you're reading Unholy Magic... I gotta read that one soon =)


  3. Danielle..thanks for telling me about the blogger who copied and pasted my review. I appreciate it.

    As for Sara Donati., I own 5 of her books but haven't read any. I was hoping ti get to Into the Wilderness soon. Sorry this was a bit of a let-down.


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