I didn’t have huge expectations for this book before I picked it up. Beyond the Wild River by Sarah Maine is historical fiction with a small side of romance which, as my dear readers will know, isn’t something I usually get excited about. The fact that it took place in the “wilds of Canada” did intrigue me though; so I thought I would pick it up while visiting Ontario (where this book takes place).
It follows a young heiress named Evelyn who is taken on a fishing trip with her father in 1893. While there, they discover that the “help” hired to facilitate their adventure is a stable hand named James that disappeared from their estate five years ago. The mystery is this: James was suspected of the murder of two men which is why people had assumed he fled Scotland. Now he’s found in the wilds of Canada, but Evelyn’s father insists that she keep her knowledge of James’s past secret and pretend they have never met before. Unfortunately my low expectations were met with a similar level of interest. Once I finished the book, I found myself a bit “meh” on the whole thing.
Part of the problem was the whole mystery part of it. The book didn’t seem that interesting to me to begin with because it happened so long ago. And yes, James was innocent; but, I didn’t so much care about who actually killed the two men because those characters weren’t really that well introduced. I think the main problem for me — when it comes to this book — is that I wasn’t invested in the characters.
Evelyn is one of the protagonists and is shown with a little fire in her when it comes to political issues of the day. She pushes back against the notion that women should stay in their domestic spheres, that servants should be treated as such, etc. Other than that, I didn’t find her three-dimensional. She was described in too distant a sense for me to relate to. It seemed as though people in the story kept pondering what was on her mind while readers never were told what she was thinking either. So, I never really got to know her. The inevitable romance side plot between her and James was fine and did add to the story. Yet, again, the story wasn’t developed enough to engage me as a reader.
The only stand-out thing about this book, for me, were the descriptions of the landscape. I really enjoyed reading about the lakes, the rivers, and the forests that surrounded the characters for most of the story. Being a water person myself, I was drawn to the scenes that took place in and around the river in which they traveled. The detail of how they camped back in that time was interesting. And it’s obvious the author did her research.
I was also fascinated by the interactions between the elite campers and the Aboriginal people hired to help them mainly because I sadly realized that not much has changed in the way Indigenous people are treated in modern day society versus the late 1800s. So, the beginnings of a few politically charged discussions can be found in this book along with some lovely scenes in nature — but not much else.
About Sarah Maine
Sarah Maine was born in England but grew up partly in Canada, returning to the UK for university where she studied archaeology.
She now works as a freelance researcher, lecturer and writer, combining an interest in the past with a love of travel and an outdoor life.