Friday, November 17, 2006

Queen of Swords by Sara Donati

It is the late summer of 1814, and Hannah Bonner and her half brother Luke have spent more than a year searching the islands of the Caribbean for Luke’s wife and the man who abducted her. But Jennet’s rescue, so long in coming, is not the resolution they’d hoped for. In the spring she had given birth to Luke’s son, and in the summer Jennet had found herself compelled to surrender the infant to a stranger in the hope of keeping him safe.

To claim the child, Hannah, Luke, and Jennet must journey first to Pensacola. There they learn a great deal about the family that has the baby. The Poiterins are a very rich, very powerful Creole family, totally without scruple. The matriarch of the family has left Pensacola for New Orleans and taken the child she now claims as her great-grandson with her.

New Orleans is a city on the brink of war, a city where prejudice thrives and where Hannah, half Mohawk, must tread softly. Careful plans are made as the Bonners set out to find and reclaim young Nathaniel Bonner. Plans that go terribly awry, isolating them from each other in a dangerous city at the worst of times.

Sure that all is lost, and sick unto death, Hannah finds herself in the care of a family and a friend from her past, Dr. Paul de Guise Savard dit Saint-d’Uzet. It is Dr. Savard and his wife who save Hannah’s life, but Dr. Savard’s half brother who offers her real hope. Jean-Benoit Savard, the great-grandson of French settlers, slaves, and Choctaw and Seminole Indians, is the one man who knows the city well enough to engineer the miracle that will reunite the Bonners and send them home to Lake in the Clouds. With Ben Savard’s guidance, allies are drawn from every segment of New Orleans’s population and from Andrew Jackson’s army, now pouring into the city in preparation for what will be the last major battle of the War of 1812.

This book is the fifth book in the Into the Wilderness series by Sara Donati. The series in order is:

Into the Wilderness
Dawn on a Distant Shore
Lake in the Clouds
Fire in the Sky
Queen of Swords

Like many other readers of this series that I have chatted with over time, I first read these books after I read the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon and wanted to read something else with a similar time frame. While I liked the first book, I think that my enjoyment of the series has been building and building, and Queen of Swords continued that trend. It was a very, very good read.

As I have mentioned before, I have a lot of reading time when I am on the train commuting to and from work, and normally whenever I finish a book I have the next book I am going to read already in my bag. I finish one book, and pick up the next straight away. When I finished this one, I picked up the next book, but couldn't start reading....I needed some time to actually revel in the reading experience that I had just had. Reading on the train also means that I laughed out loud, and teared up several times throughout the book in public!

The book opens with Luke trying to rescue his fiancee from a man who kidnapped her nearly a year before. Accompanying Luke is his half sister, Hannah, a soldier by the name of Kit Wyndham and a group of loyal men. Rescuing Jennet, they find that in order to protect him, Jennet has given their son to a man by the name of Honore Poiterin, asking him to take him away from her prison like island. Now, the Bonners must try to get their son back, and their journey takes them to Pensacola and then to New Orleans.

The Poiterins have taken the baby and spread the story that he is the son of Honore himself, and they are not going to give him up without a fight. The Poiterin's are one of the Creole first families in New Orleans, and they have many allies, meaning that it is not always going to be a fair fight either.

As Jennet becomes more and more desperate to regain custody of her son, and as Luke and Jennet try to rebuild their relationship after the traumatic events of the past year, they find themselves having to make allies in a city where there is much uneasiness, for it is 1812 and the war between the English and the Americans is right on their doorsteps.

I have to confess that I know very little about the war of 1812, although I have read a couple of books that are set around that time. I certainly had no idea that there was so much fighting around New Orleans. I guess I just assumed that most of the fighting occurred on the East Coast and didn't really spread all that far from there.

The highlight for me in this book was getting to know Ben Savard, and seeing the way that he helped Hannah move forward with her life, without disrespecting her past or dominating her present. It was an interesting parallel to me that even though he too was biracial like Hannah, that one of the biggest traits that they shared was that they both had been bought up and accepted by their respective families, in stark contrast to the treatment of some others like them. To an extent these relationships were also reflected by society as a whole, with Hannah finding it much harder to exist in the city of New Orleans than she normally did.

By moving the action away from Paradise (where most of the other books take place), Sara Donati has managed to bring a completely different feel to this book, without losing any of the integrity of any of the characters. Whilst many of the characters we have come to love in previous books were offstage during this novel, we did get glimpses of them through the letters that were received, and there was a welcome cameo from Nathaniel and Running Bears as well.

I really do recommend reading this series if you enjoy historical fiction set in the early days of the US.

Sara Donati is just starting to work on the sixth book in this series, and I for one cannot wait to read it. In the meantime I am so tempted to actually reread the whole series....and I don't really do rereads normally!

Rating 4.5/5


  1. Ben Savard was definitely one of the best things about this book. He's just great. he helped Hannah move forward with her life, without disrespecting her past or dominating her present Yes! He was so wise in how he dealt with all her (many) issues. :)

    And Hannah is my favorite character, so I liked that so much of this story was focused on her.

  2. I see these books all the time but never picked one up. Hmmm, I may just try one (thank you for listing the order too!). I do love historical fiction.

  3. Jennie, I was so glad to see that Hannah grew a lot in this book!

    Iliana, they are well worth reading, especially the latter books in the series.

  4. Marg, I read the first book and enjoyed it very much. I bought the second and it's been languishing in my TBR ever since. Just never got back into them. What to do...what to do.