Formats available: ebook, paperback
Genre: Historical fiction
Length: 353 pages
Date Released: September 24, 2013
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository
This is the account of Katie O’Toole, late of Lancaster Co., Pennsylvania, removed from her family by savages on March the 2nd in the year of our Lord 1747
The thirteenth child conceived of miserable Irish exiles, Katie O’Toole dreams of a different life. Little does she know that someone far away is dreaming of her.
In 1747, savages raid her family home, and seventeen-year-old Katie is taken captive. Syawa and Hector have been searching for her, guided by Syawa’s dreams. A young Holyman, Syawa believes Katie is the subject of his Vision: the Creature of Fire and Ice, destined to bring a great gift to his people. Despite her flaming hair and ice-blue eyes, Katie is certain he is mistaken, but faced with returning to her family, she agrees to join them. She soon discovers that in order to fulfill Syawa’s Vision, she must first become his Spirit Keeper, embarking on an epic journey that will change her life—and heart—forever.
“Enjoy the ride” sounds like pretty good philosophy no matter which direction life’s currents sweep you. It is also the instruction that young Irish colonist Katie O’Toole receives from the Native American prophet Syawa as he lays dying in the middle of a journey to either kidnap or rescue Katie from the only home she ever knew and take her through the unspoiled American wilderness of the mid-1700’s to fulfill a vision Syawa always knew he wouldn’t live to see.
Syawa doesn’t leave Katie alone. Because the whole point of his vision, at least from his perspective, seems to have been to find Katie and give her into the care of his best friend and bodyguard, a warrior she refers to as Hector because she can’t manage to pronounce his name.
Syawa also leaves his “Spirit” in Katie’s keeping. Hector believes this literally. Katie is sure that this is a lie. But then, the Native beliefs are not hers.
This story is one of discovery. Katie’s discovery of the vastness and beauty of the American continent, and her discovery of the depths of her own heart. Quite possibly it will also be her discovery of the truth of Syawa’s vision and his spirit quest.
What we have in this story is Katie’s long journey from downtrodden colonial daughter of alcoholic and abusive parents who is presented with a life-altering choice in the midst of an attack on her colony by Natives. Syawa and Hector protect her and only her from the marauders. She can choose to go with them, or not. Communication is awkward, mostly by sign and gesture.
It is the first time anyone has ever valued her for herself. And this value seems to have nothing to do with sexual favors. Whatever they want, it is not lascivious. But in the face of her mother’s continuing abuse, she chooses the path that seems to allow her some little dignity, and changes her life.
In spite of the hardships that accompany her choice, it is difficult to fault her for it. But as she struggles to learn a new language and a new way of viewing the world, we see the continent before we spoiled it and a way of life that is long gone.
Even as Katie begins to adapt to the immensity of the journey, she still thinks herself superior to the beliefs of the Natives that she travels with, and those whose villages she travels through, even as she falls in love with one.
She’s certain that the vision quest and spirit keeper thing is a hoax, one that she goes along with because her new life is the best one she’s ever had, in spite of its hardships. But what if it’s all true?
Escape Rating A-: Katie falls in love with a man, but the reader falls in love with her journey. It’s almost impossible not to be captivated by her descriptions of the beautiful wilderness that she is traveling through, even though it is often by one aching footstep at a time.
Her adjustment is slow and sometimes painful. It’s not that she lived a life of ease before, but initially she struggles to communicate with her companions; they do not share a language, and is sometimes trapped in her own misery.
Katie’s story is a conversion, not religious per se, but a conversion from her early perspective of seeing the colonial way as superior to seeing the Native methods as being, if not superior, at least equally valid for their own time and place.
Also Katie is aware that the world she traverses is going to be irrevocably changed by the invasion of the whites, whatever happens, hers is like a record of Eden before the snake. Or before the demon rum.
Because the narrative is in the form of Katie’s journal, some readers may find the attempt to reproduce Katie’s mid-18th century spelling less than congenial. I’ll only say that after the first few pages, I was so lost in her story that I stopped noticing. She told much too compelling a yarn for me to care about her idiosyncrasies.
My only caveat is that the story ends at the close of the first winter of their long journey. That journey is not over, and I am left longing to see what comes next.
K.B. is giving away a copy of The Spirit Keeper (US/Canada)! To enter, use the Rafflecopter below: