Sunday, December 19, 2010

Y is for Yellowstone

Based on the cover and title, does this look like women's historical adventure fiction to you?  Me neither, and this dissuaded me from giving the book a second glance until recently.  Maybe I shouldn't pigeonhole it to such a degree, but it's one of the better examples in the subgenre.

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.

Although I can appreciate the author's attempt to provide a panorama of regional history, she sacrifices some clarity in the process. The sheer number of viewpoints and flashbacks to past events is disorienting at times. One thing that remains clear, however, is the author's deep love for Yellowstone.  She vividly recreates its breathtaking imagery: the bountiful forests, the surprising geologic formations, and the beauty of the sunrise as it tints the snow-capped mountains in rose.

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.


  1. Adding it to my to read list.. Thanks! My mom grew up in Yellowstone so this interests me.

  2. Your mom must have some great stories to tell about her childhood. I've never been to Yellowstone; one of the few national parks I've yet to visit. One day!

  3. I see what you mean about the cover. It really does look like a modern thriller and/or suspense. Makes me wonder why the publisher tried that one, because I don't think I'd pick it up either if the cover was all I had to go on.

    The story sounds intriguing, though. Thanks for sharing this one!

  4. This looks like a great 'Y". I just posted mine today:

  5. Thanks for the review, it sounds great.

    I agree about the cover, I would have passed it by.