REVIEW: Many Sparrows by Lori Benton
Either she and her children would emerge from that wilderness together, or none of them would…
In 1774, the Ohio-Kentucky frontier pulses with rising tension and brutal conflicts as Colonists push westward and encroach upon Native American territories. The young Inglesby family is making the perilous journey west when an accident sends Philip back to Redstone Fort for help, forcing him to leave his pregnant wife Clare and their four-year old son Jacob on a remote mountain trail.
When Philip does not return and Jacob disappears from the wagon under the cover of darkness, Clare awakens the next morning to find herself utterly alone, in labor and wondering how she can to recover her son…especially when her second child is moments away from being born.
Clare will face the greatest fight of her life, as she struggles to reclaim her son from the Shawnee Indians now holding him captive. But with the battle lines sharply drawn, Jacob’s life might not be the only one at stake. When frontiersman Jeremiah Ring comes to her aid, can the stranger convince Clare that recovering her son will require the very thing her anguished heart is unwilling to do — be still, wait and let God fight this battle for them?
Dear Ms. Benton,
It’s hard to find an 18th century American historical these days that is set on the frontier. Westerns seem to be making a bit of a comeback but when I find a book like this, I jump at the chance to read it.
Clare Inglesby is a frustrated woman in a situation she hates yet trying to do her best. Her husband Philip is totally unsuited to leading his family towards the Ohio/Kentucky frontier but that’s where she finds herself, eight months pregnant and with her young son. Then the worst happens after Philip heads back towards the fort to find help for their busted wagon; her labor begins and during the night her son disappears. When an unknown woodsman appears, Clare doesn’t know if he’s the answer to her prayers or going to be the cause of her death.
Jeremiah Ring has his own past reasons for being where he is now – a man torn between two peoples and trying to avoid a fight with either. He’s got places to be and things to be doing but he can’t leave this young woman and her newborn to certain death. Beyond the fact that she’s alone, tensions in the area are strained to breaking after an unprovoked attack by Virginians on peaceful Mingos which has lead to bloody reprisals and deaths. He hadn’t reckoned on Clare’s determination to find her son.
So begins their search for four year old Jacob as the Shawnees and their allies desperately push back against the land hungry British Governor Dunmore and the Virginia militia march towards the Ohio River Indian settlements. Jeremiah has faced what Clare’s now enduring but can he get her to trust in his experience and have faith that God is watching out for her and Jacob?
I have to admit that I held my breath until it became clear that the story would do justice to the injustices done to the Shawnees and Mingos. Their culture is shown in a positive light and they are portrayed as nuanced human beings with both strengths and weaknesses. Jeremiah has chosen to live among them for ten years and his divided loyalties are wrenching. He has an adopted family and truly sees them as his brothers and sister. Clare initially views them as it makes sense for her to – she’s only heard things about Indians, has faced a loss at the hands of one and now her son might be lost to her because of them. The book takes its time changing her mind in the face of her experiences with them. Thank you for Clare having enough sense to generally listen to what Jeremiah tells her to do while they live among the Shawnee.
I knew a little bit about Lord Dunmore’s War but by the time the book was over, I knew a lot more. What caused it, the events of it and the battles that take place are well explained though the details leading up to the actual fighting tend to go on when I wanted time focused on Clare getting Jacob back. But the months over which all this takes place do give Clare time to see the Indians in a new light. I thought her feelings at the end are more natural than many Indian romances with white heroines who submerge themselves into new identities – and yes, I’ve read my share of those in years past.
The romance is slow and takes its time to flower. When Jeremiah meets Clare, she’s going through one crisis after another and her world has been rocked to the ground. He’s trying to help mediate and pacify two peoples on the verge of all out war. They’ve got other things that romance on their minds and I appreciate that they are given time to sort some of these before addressing their growing feelings. Jeremiah doesn’t even ask to call Clare by her first name until the book is half over. Before that she’s Mrs. Inglesby or just “Missus.”
The book deals a lot with Clare’s wavering faith and Jeremiah’s firm belief. This becomes more evident towards the second half of the story. This is a more a strengthening of existing religious faith rather than any finger pointing, obnoxious preaching or attempts at conversion. Jeremiah tries to help Clare with her disbelief, buck her up and keep her strong but he never lectures at her. She comes to her own feelings by herself after being sorely tested and it is her choice on how her faith proceeds.
There are two secondary characters I became interested in who appear to have already had their stores which follow the events of this book told in The Pursuit of Tamsen Littlejohn: A Novel. You give tantalizing clues about them and I do want to read this story to see what happens and if Wolf-Alone’s backstory is ever fully explained.
Thanks for not skimping on the harsh realities of the period, place and events of this setting. Goody that Clare is allowed her doubts and anger as she grows in faith. Also I appreciate how the Indian characters are given their truths and dignities without being turned into Noble Savages. And yes though the setting is twenty years prior to this book, I did pull out my DVD copy of “Last of the Mohicans” because — hot frontiersmen. B