Monday, May 29, 2017

Review: Eliza Waite by Ashley E. Sweeney

Alaska intrigues me. It is one of the places on my bucket list. I'm intrigued by the rugged, naturalness of the state, it's remoteness and the idea of it as this country's last frontier. How much more rugged and unspoiled would it have been at the dawn of the twentieth century when prospectors were racing there for the promise of gold? Ashley Sweeney's novel, Eliza Waite, captures that air of rough and tumble and the possibility of reinvention in the frontier town of Skagway, Alaska.

Eliza Waite is a widow who lives alone on a remote island in the San Juan Islands of Washington. From a well-off Midwestern family, she was married off to a stranger who took her west to Cypress Island where he was a minister. When an epidemic decimated the population of the island, carrying off both Eliza's beloved young son and her husband, she stays in their home to be close to her boy's final resting place even though she is all alone and life is hard and dangerous. When Eliza injures herself, she manages to make it to the mainland where she is nursed back to health.  She thinks she might just be coming alive again out of the well of deep grief she's been existing in but when things go awry, she flees to Skagway, Alaska with the intention of opening a bakery in the booming gateway to the Klondike. In Skagway, Eliza has the chance to reinvent herself, to take charge of her own destiny. She opens herself up to the diverse people around her and works on building a life among these unusual but wonderful new friends.

Eliza is a strong and appealing character. The courage it takes to hop a ship with the flood of prospectors having no guarantee that the fifty dollars in her pocket will buy her a new life is astounding. She has endured hardship, tragedy, and deception and yet she never loses her determination to survive. Sweeney draws the evolution of Eliza's character very well and she's captured the gritty verisimilitude of a a gold rush town beautifully. Eliza's past, her unhappy childhood and less than ideal marriage, weaves through the narrative, helping the reader to understand better who she is. The second part of the book, once she reaches Alaska is far more compelling than the story of her sad and lonely existence on Cypress Island, perhaps because that is where her character feels true and empowered.  She's actually forging a life instead of treading water.  As she is a wonderful baker, there are recipes sprinkled throughout the book, directly in the text and they feel historically accurate. Although the beginning is too drawn out, the writing is good and the setting is intriguing so fans of historical fiction will certainly enjoy this unusual tale of a smart, capable, and undaunted woman.

Thanks to the publicist for sending me a copy of the book for review.

1 comment:

  1. I've been to Skagway! And I read a book set in Alaska this week too. Not out until 2018 though.


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