My rating: 5 of 5 stars
An Untamed Land by Lauraine Snelling begins in Norway with a prologue dated 1877. Then Far (father Gustaf Bjorklund) and his family begin planning for the immigration of several of his sons from Norway to America. Roald, married to Anna with 21-month Thorliff and pregnant with a new baby will be joined by 19-year-old Carl and Kaaren, whom he plans to marry.
The actual story begins three years later in 1880. But there is no more Anna. Ingeborg is now by Roald’s side and we discover Anna and the babe she was carrying have died. We join the six (Karl, Kaaren, their newborn Gunny, Roald, Ingeborg and five-year-old Thorliff) as they are about to disembark from the ship after an arduous transatlantic voyage.
Ingeborg and Roald are still adjusting to each other. Ingeborg chafes under Roald’s protective, take-charge ways. Roald, missing his childhood sweetheart Anna and traumatized by her death, is trying to understand Ingeborg’s impulsiveness and curb her independent tendencies.
We follow them as they make their cumbersome way from America’s eastern seaboard to the Dokota Territory by covered wagon and live with them in the day-to-day hardships of homesteading. Especially grueling are the long and desperately cold winters with their isolating storms.
I found main characters Ingeborg and Roald interesting and complex. Snelling has a way of showing us their faults and at the same time arousing sympathy for them as we enter their points of view. A major subplot of the story is the evolution of their relationship.
Snelling also handles the setting masterfully with enough description of the wild Dakota lands for me to see, hear, and feel the elements that are almost like another character. Living with these young moms as they keep house in covered wagons and then little soddies, cook over open fires, rejoice over a couple of cows, a team of oxen, some sheep, scrabble in the dirt to plant vegetables, even some flowers gave me a new admiration for North America’s pioneers.
Things go along relatively well till about two thirds through the book when tragedy strikes. Though the end is satisfying, Snelling leaves enough plot bits unresolved to make us want to find out what happens in the books that follow.
An Untamed Land is a strong beginning to what has proven to be a popular series of six Red River of the North books. If you enjoy pioneering stories that major on studying human nature, and minor on a little sweet romance, you’ll love this book.