Reviewed by Bev Scott
This complex historic epic brings together politicians, the Northern Pacific Railroad, land-hungry men, European immigrants, especially Kristen and her family from Norway, with the main protagonist Frances Bingham in the Dakota Territory of the late nineteenth century. Frances is married to Percy, an educated but lazy man addicted to his flask of brandy. They live in Mr. John Bingham’s house (Percy’s father), with his disabled sister Anna, who Frances admires and longs for unconventional intimacy. Kristen, who becomes the housekeeper, offers her naive observations directly to the reader which reveal many hidden truths of the story. Frances manipulates the members of the household to achieve her own desires only to find in the end that she is rejected, turned away and without any means of support. The story describes the political and economic intrigue and greed which drives the personal and social lives of the Bingham family while crushing many poor immigrant farmers.
The characters are finely drawn by Marshall, leaving the reader with a sense of personal knowledge of not only their behavior but also their motivations, emotions, and secret longings. The descriptions of the landscape provide a photographic image of the Dakota Territory at the time. The tales of manipulation and the exercise of power by the political and economic elite offer a fascinating historic context despite the sometimes boring descriptions.
I found this book to be engaging and engrossing. I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys historical fiction and is willing to learn from the complex historic context of the story.