April 13, 2015

Book Review: Into the Savage Country by Shannon Burke

Shannon Burke (Black Flies) sets Into the Savage Country at a pivotal moment in American history. In the late 1820s, American, Spanish and British trappers and adventurers are battling for supremacy in the western territories. These ragtag and fiercely loyal mountain men understand that their triumph or failure may affect the future for their respective nations.

Young William Wyeth, resolved to make his fortune in the West as a means to win the hand of the lovely widow Alene, sets out on a trapping expedition of breathtaking scope. The small brigade Wyeth joins is determined to trap in untouched Crow lands, but they are drawn into disputes between the Crow, Blackfoot and Gros Ventre tribes. With the British backing some tribes and the Spanish refusing southern passage, it will take all their wits to escape back to St. Louis, Mo., with their furs and their lives.

Told from Wyeth's point of view, Into the Savage Country pays homage to an often overlooked period in American history. There to witness the destruction of buffalo herds and the decimation of fur animals, Wyeth muses on the changes in both the burgeoning United States and himself. And as the months pass, Wyeth's bonds with his fellow brigade members cause him to rethink his ideas of friendship and bravery.

A quiet little novel, written in a spare style that belies the excitement between its covers, Into the Savage Country is a glimpse back to an almost forgotten lifestyle, and an era in which the wealth of a continent beckoned the adventurous. It's not my normal style at all, but I enjoyed it. It reminded me a bit of The High Divide, or some of Cormac McCarthy's books. (I told Noel I thought he'd like it, since he's a big McCarthy fan.)

The part that kept blowing my mind is that it takes place only 40 years after the Revolution. Nuts to think how fast America changed. 

Do you like Western American fiction?

I originally wrote most of this review for Shelf Awareness.