Abigail Peacock and her father are regretting the impetuous desire for adventure that led them to journey thousands of miles from England to a remote village in northwestern Ontario to run a school. In 1885 the living conditions are primitive, and Abigail’s father has fallen ill in the depths of winter. Abigail continues to run the school and finds her life tedious. Lars, the helpful store owner who brought them there to teach Swedish rail workers and miners English, is almost certainly going to propose marriage. Abigail is not enthused.
Abigail is not at first receptive to Lars’ suggestion that she get a rifle. But eventually she buys one on a whim, guiltily spending some of her family’s savings. She finds an area outside of town to practice, and it soon becomes the only thing she enjoys. One day, though, she arrives at her practice location to find a wounded, unconscious cowboy. It’s not totally clear, but suggested, that she shot him by mistake the day before.
Here’s where the story started to lose me a little bit. Abigail doesn’t want anyone to disturb the place she practices, so instead of going for help, she leaves the cowboy there and returns at times to nurse him. This decision eventually leads to an even more morally challenged decision and then to a cross-country journey to find a man connected with Buffalo Bill Cody’s western show.
I don’t expect characters to be perfect, but this is the same person whose desire to do the right thing puts herself and a friend in jeopardy later in the novel. And then there’s the way they get out of it.
This kind of thing probably won’t bother many readers, though, and the novel does make an inventive adventure story with a strong heroine. I’m not saying I didn’t enjoy it. Still, just one more caveat.
Part of the novel is devoted to a rebellion in Canada that I hadn’t heard of before, of the Métis people lead by Louis Riel and Gabriel Dumont. Early in the novel, information on this topic is introduced through synopses of news articles Abigail is reading to her father and through some discussion. These sections and later ones are handled a little awkwardly because of the amount of information and its method of introduction. The way it was handled made me wonder what it was doing in the story. The information fits into the story eventually, but I feel, firstly, that it could have been introduced more smoothly, and secondly, that the novel unhandily juxtaposes the rebellion, the James Gang, and Annie Oakley.
When I read in an interview of Gault on Consumed by Ink that Gault wanted to write something that combined her research into those three topics, it made perfect sense to me. I just think the subjects could have been combined in a way that seemed more likely.
Disclosure: I received a copy of this book free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.