Linda Jacobs' Lake of Fire takes place in and around Yellowstone National Park in June of 1900. It's the beginning of tourist season, and Laura Fielding, a banking heiress from Chicago, defies her father's wishes by traveling alone to Yellowstone by stagecoach. After Cord Sutton rescues her from a violent robbery in which her driver is killed, the two make their way together from Jackson Hole to the park, a three-day journey.
They grow steadily closer as they cross treacherous waters, face dangers from local wildlife, and camp out in Wyoming's magnificent high country, but both are keeping secrets. Cord claims to be a rancher, which is true, but he also has plans to purchase Yellowstone's elegant Lake Hotel - an ambitious scenario for a man whose grandmother was Nez Perce. Laura's rich father is backing a different buyer. Hank Falls has been managing the hotel for the Northern Pacific Railroad, and now that the railroad has decided to sell, he wants to own it outright.
Jacobs doesn't make the mistake of dragging out the misunderstanding between Laura and Cord. Although they're forced to see one another in a new light, they don't suddenly change their personalities once they arrive at the park. It's a foregone conclusion that they'll fall in love, but many obstacles stand in their way, including Cord's previous attachment and Forrest Fielding's intent to make a match between his daughter and Hank.
There's a lot more going on than just Laura and Cord's growing love story. While this aspect is emotionally gripping, the novel's much meatier than that, and the richness of the background makes the romance even more poignant and real. Subplots reveal the park's complex history and the U.S. government's shameful treatment of the Nez Perce, or the Nimiipuu as they called themselves.
Lake of Fire is an exciting glimpse into how refined society adapted to the park's rugged wilderness in the early 20th century. It also serves as a reminder of the brave Western women, both white and native, who dared to live against the grain.
Lake of Fire, a finalist for the WILLA Literary Award from Women Writing the West, was published by Medallion Press in 2007 in mass market paperback (540pp, $6.99 US/$9.99 Canada). Quite a bargain, in my opinion. This is my pick for the letter Y in Historical Tapestry's alphabet challenge. Incidentally, the title fits the pattern of the author's previous books, which are set in modern-day Yellowstone. It does have a connection to the story, though it's a slim one, imho, and you'd have to read it to see why.