Friday, December 05, 2008

To the Ends of the Earth

To the Ends of the Earth: The Last Journey of Lewis & Clark
by Frances Hunter
(Blind Rabbit Press / 0-977-76362-5 / 978-0-977-76362-7 / September 2006 / 392 pages / $20 / $19.60 Amazon)

Reviewed by Dianne Salerni for PODBRAM

In 1809, three years after returning from the greatest adventure of their lives, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark find themselves serving politically appointed positions in St. Louis. Clark, at least, has established a family, having married the girl of his dreams and grown accustomed to a more settled life. Lewis, however, has languished in his new role as Governor of the Louisiana Territory. More suited to the rugged life of an explorer than to political intrigue, Lewis makes an enemy of the wrong man and is subsequently compelled to travel to Federal City, where he hopes to defend his actions to the Secretary of War. This will be the last journey of Lewis’s life, a terrible trek across treacherous lands where he will endure hostile companions, fight off attack by assassins, and face his own inner demons. A few days travel behind him follows his faithful friend William Clark, called out from the haven of his home by a desperate plea – striving to catch up to Lewis in time to save him.

Author Frances Hunter (in truth, two sisters writing under one name) has pried the famous duo of Lewis and Clark off the pages of history and breathed true life into them. Between the pages of this stunning book, we meet two real men, fully realized and believable characters who just happen to be the most famous explorers in American history. Although we first meet Lewis as a broken and tormented has-been with a ruined reputation, readers get periodic glimpses of the man he once was, the heroic and seemingly indestructible leader of the Corps of Discovery of the Northwest Territory. His stalwart friend William Clark is almost larger than life, but unmistakably human in his faults – particularly in the way he overlooks his friend’s shortcomings and in the way he treats his slaves. York is present, too, and although many modern history texts tend to sanitize reality by describing York as a valued member of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, Frances Hunter reminds us that even after that valiant accomplishment, he was still Clark’s slave. Other characters brought to life include Lewis’s faithful dog Seaman and the mysterious Major Neelly, whose secret loyalties and possible role in Lewis’s death remain uncertain until the end.

To the Ends of the Earth is an example of independent publishing at its finest. Impeccable editing, compelling writing, and a believable interpretation of a famous historical mystery make this one of the best independently published novels I have read. I admit that the first couple of chapters, heavily weighted in political intrigue, moved a bit slowly for me, but by the time the author introduced York, I was hooked. Periodic flashbacks describe vivid moments of the original Lewis and Clark Expedition, while events in this, their last journey, move inexorably toward the climax. Although I knew the fate of Lewis in advance, I was still not ready for it when it happened, and I was, like York in the novel, struck by horror and disbelief: “Captain Lewis couldn’t be dead! Oh, many times on the Expedition he’d come close – why, he’d been chased by a grizzly bear! He’d almost fallen off a cliff! Hell, he’d even been shot through the ass! Seemed like folks were always giving Captain Lewis up for dead. But it was impossible!” Impossible, maybe, but it was as true and strange as only history can be. For fans of historical fiction and American history, To the Ends of the Earth is a novel that should not be missed.

See Also: Dianne's High Spirits Review
The Author's Website
The Fairest Portion of the Globe

No comments: