Sara Donati is the penname of Rosina Lippi. Sara lives only to write the Wilderness novels.
[Dawn on a Distant Shore] Donati's skillfully told and captivating romantic historical saga brings a tumultuous era and dashing characters to life in what promises to be a very popular and rewarding series - Booklist
As good as it gets ... Donati writes eloquently about frontier life.
Donati continues the saga of the valiant Bonner family, last seen in 2002's Lake in the Clouds , in this sprawling, slow-to-start epic starring four formidable women. It's 1812, and Elizabeth Bonner—teacher, crusader and second wife of hunter/trapper/farmer Nathaniel—is still living in a mountain cabin above the village of Paradise in upper New York State. With her is her restless, independent daughter, Lily, whose plans to study art in England were dashed by the beginnings of the war. Nearby in Montreal is the newly widowed Scotswoman Lady Jennet, who has come to the new world to find the man she should have married, Nathaniel's son Luke. And arriving presently is Hannah, Nathaniel's half-Mohawk daughter by his first wife; after 10 years as a healer with her mother's people, Hannah comes home to recover from a terrible personal tragedy. This saga sees Lily through one disastrous romance and then a second, tempestuous but ultimately successful one, and Lady Jennet—a charming storyteller and Tarot reader—through the American invasion of French Canada, where another Bonner son is wounded and imprisoned. Hannah embarks on a search for peace and, along with Jennet, aids the prisoners held in Canada's Nut Island stockade. This is an episodic but entertaining novel held together by the kind of family loyalties that defy cruelty, war and even fate itself.
In the fifth volume of her popular Wilderness series, after Fire along the Sky (2004), Donati sweeps readers into two strong women's personal journeys of rescue and redemption. It is 1814 in the French Antilles, where Scots noblewoman Jennet Scott Huntar is being held captive. But when her future husband, Luke, and his half-sister, Hannah, finally locate and free her, their troubles have just begun. To ensure the safety of her son, born during her imprisonment, Jennet had made a devil's bargain with a dissolute, untrustworthy man. As the trio travels from Pensacola to New Orleans in their attempts to learn the child's whereabouts, Jennet struggles to heal herself and her marriage, while Hannah, half-Mohawk, uses her medical training to help the city's Indian populace and faces deadly illness herself. It's both a smoothly written, engrossing adventure about an early American family and a vivid depiction of the little-explored War of 1812, yet it's more than that. Donati also delves into much deeper realities, such as race and prejudice in one of America's famously multicultural cities, the complex patterns of revenge, the price of loyalty during wartime, and the transformative power of love. Avid historical fiction and romance readers will devour it.
The Seattle Times (original source)
review by Melissa Bargreen
The Endless Forest
by Sara Donati
Fans of Sara Donati's wonderful "Wilderness Series" of historical novels will greet this newest one with mixed emotions: It is the last of six books about a splendidly drawn cast of characters living more than 200 years ago in the little village of Paradise, N.Y. Eager as Donati's readers will be to catch up on the adventures of the remarkable Bonner family and their cohorts, it's painful to realize that this saga is now at an end (except for re-readings, of course).
And Sara Donati, who is really the nom de plume of Northwest writer Rosina Lippi, presumably will retire after this final effort; Lippi's Web site quips, "Sara lives only to write the Wilderness novels."
It's been a great run. The first book, "Into the Wilderness," opens in 1792, when the bookish and forthright Elizabeth moves from her cozy home in England to the spartan, mountainous frontier town of Paradise to be the schoolteacher there.
She encounters Nathaniel Bonner, the son of Daniel "Hawkeye" Bonner (hero of James Fenimore Cooper's "The Last of the Mohicans"), setting in motion a richly imagined series of events. Over the course of the subsequent novels ("Dawn on a Distant Shore," "Lake in the Clouds," "Fire Along the Sky" and "Queen of Swords"), the Bonner clan and assorted friends — and some particularly nasty foes — undergo a series of adventures and romances that boggle the imagination.
In the new "The Endless Forest," Donati kick-starts the action with a "once in a century" flood in 1824 that sweeps through the little village, ruining everything in its wake.
While the small community — in which freed black slaves, Mohawks and Quakers live peacefully side by side — is still coping with the death and destruction wrought by the flood, some long-absent key characters in this series return to Paradise. They bring with them many intriguing complications: Elizabeth and Nathaniel's daughter Lily and her husband, returning from a long stay abroad, want more than anything to have a child together, but haven't been successful thus far. And Martha Kirby, a young woman who is Nathaniel's ward, comes back to the Bonners after her birth mother — the evil Jemima, who abandoned her as a child — has maliciously ended Martha's engagement to a boring but worthy New Yorker.
Jemima's impending return to Paradise hangs over the last portion of the book like a Category 5 hurricane swirling toward landfall. Amoral and conniving, she has ruined — even ended — several lives already. For Martha, the fear of what Jemima might now do is compounded by her horror at the idea that Martha might also bear the taint of her mother's twisted nature.
Does this book stand on its own, or does it function only as the conclusion to the series? It helps that Donati has crafted an introduction from conversations and letters by two of her most remarkable characters — the freed slave and wise woman named Curiosity, and the book's central figure, Elizabeth Bonner. The reader who will enjoy "The Endless Forest" the most, however, is almost certainly one who has already read at least some of the novel's predecessors.
Underscoring the finality of this last installment is an epilogue in which a series of news items explain the eventual achievements and fates of the characters readers have grown to love. It's like reading the obituary of a beloved relative.