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Beyond the Wild River by Sarah Maine

Beyond the Wild River by Sarah Maine
Pub. Date: April 18, 2017
Source: e-ARC via publisher (Thank you, Atria!)
Summary: Nineteen-year-old Evelyn Ballantyre has rarely strayed from her family’s estate in the Scottish Borderlands, save for the occasional trip to Edinburgh, where her father, a respected magistrate, conducts his business—and affairs of another kind. Evelyn has always done her duty as a daughter, hiding her boredom and resentment behind good manners—so when an innocent friendship with a servant is misinterpreted by her father as an illicit union, Evelyn is appalled.

Yet the consequence is a welcome one: she is to accompany her father on a trip to North America, where they’ll visit New York City, the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago, and conclude with a fishing expedition on the Nipigon River in Canada. Now is her chance to escape her cloistered life, see the world, and reconnect with her father.

Once they’re on the Nipigon, however, Evelyn is shocked to discover that their guide is James Douglas, the former stable hand and her one-time friend who disappeared from the estate after the shootings of a poacher and a gamekeeper. Many had assumed that James had been responsible, but Evelyn never could believe it. Now, in the wilds of a new world, far from the constraints of polite society, the truth about that day, James, and her father will be revealed…to stunning consequences.
Genre: Historical Fiction

Back in January, I highlighted Beyond the Wild River in my week-long series on books I need to get my hands on. A historical novel set in the wilderness of Canada. A Scottish heiress and a run-in with a childhood friend – five years after he left their estate following a shocking double-murder. This book has my name written all over it and I couldn’t wait to dive in. Imagine my utter delight when the publicist reached out and invited me to be part of the tour! I couldn’t say yes fast enough!!

Evelyn Ballantyre is nineteen-years-old and finally – finally! – getting the chance to leave her father’s estate to see what lies beyond Scotland’s borders. So what if the trip was brought on by a mistaken friendship with a servant (completely and wholly innocent); the misinterpretation on her father’s part will allow her the trip of a lifetime. If she’s honest, she’s hoping it’ll serve as an opportunity to mend their once-strong relationship and in doing so, she’ll get to visit the World’s Fair in Chicago and end the journey with a Canadian fishing trip.

Much to Evelyn’s surprise, one of the guides is actually her childhood friend James, a street urchin her father once took in and who ultimately disappeared five years ago on the night of a horrific double-murder on the estate’s grounds. All these years Evelyn firmly believed James had been innocent…but if he wasn’t responsible for the crimes, then why would he run? And what secrets from that night has her father been keeping?

For such an atmospheric, moody novel, I have to admit that I struggled to really get into Beyond the Wild River! I was so looking forward to it – especially since it was pitched as being for fans of Kate Morton and Beatriz Williams, two authors I absolutely adore. This novel had so much going for it, so many things about it that were tailor-made for me as a reader…but I simply didn’t feel a connection to the story. There were flashback chapters from the night of the murders and I tore through these. The more I think of it, I suppose I wanted more of a mystery novel instead of the painstakingly slow, meandering story I got.

Evie and her friend, a married woman a few years older, are the only women on the trip and while I feel Evie would have been content to have a proper go at camping in the woods, her friend’s attitude completely took me out of the story. This was a woman who was used to – and expected – the finer things in life: sleeping in tents and holes in the ground for toilets were NOT among them. At one point she’s knocked out cold during a brutal storm and even then she managed to be all woe is me.

Once Beyond the Wild River revealed what truly happened on that night five years ago (and the role Evie’s father played in it and James’s disappearance) I wasn’t entirely satisfied. I wanted something big, some deep, dark, juicy secret about the killer and the motive and was a big let down. Again, I think that, because I went in expecting a mystery novel, I also expected a big and bold mystery novel ending so the disappointment here is entirely misplaced and completely on me.

Despite my misgivings, I actually did enjoy the novel! Beyond the Wild River was so richly detailed that I had no problem whatsoever imagining the forests of Canada, the rivers, this band of highbrow Scots and their native guides. In that regard, Maine did an excellent job: this book was moody and broody and breathed the Canadian wilderness. However, the story itself felt lacking and unfortunately I never truly connected with any of the characters. What could have been a great novel ended up being simply an okay read due to the weak plot. Still, the premise of Beyond the Wild River and Maine’s gorgeously vivid writing have me excited to see what she does next!

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2 thoughts on “Beyond the Wild River by Sarah Maine

  1. Hallo, Hallo Leah! :)

    I hadn’t had the chance to see if anyone I knew was reading one of the books I was prior to posting my review – happily I found a few of you reading this title, as it was one of those books where you can love components of the story but perhaps, felt a bit let-down by the ending chapters!? At least, this was for me – I’m curious now to read your own thoughts. If you wanted to see what I loved about the story, I sent the link to my review via Twitter. :)

    Yes, I agree – there were pacing issues but those I felt were to slowly draw out the way in which the three main characters were interconnected: Evelyn, James and her father. I do admit, the flashbacks felt abrupt in places; especially when I was keenly invested in one of Evelyn’s chapters only to find myself immediately re-directed to James. Those were not segued well but I do have to say, I think the key issue for us is how the novel was marketed. It wasn’t exactly an atmospheric novel inasmuch as a coming-of age tale of a young girl finding her wings to fly in the adult world where the illusions of her childhood are being debunked.

    I didn’t feel as latched on to the wildness as you did – I felt more compelled to understand the character growth surfacing in Evelyn and on that note, I felt the novel succeeded. However, it’s the reveals at the end that left me unsatisfied and in one way, upset me a bit as there was no foundation for part of the plot reveal. Again, I blogged more about this myself.

    I can see we both enjoyed portions of the story but overall, it was a bit of a miss. I was surprised no one has mentioned some of the more interesting suppositions of the story; how Evelyn noticed the shocking realisation of the exhibitors and the differences of opinion regarding hunting. Hmm. Maybe everyone was trying to find what I was seeking out of the story and some of that fell away.

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