3 out of 4 stars
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Strong Heart by Charlie Sheldon is definitely one of the most unique novels I’ve happened to read recently.
Set in the suggestive wilderness of the Olympic Peninsula, said to be “a land of magic, history and legend,” it develops in two separate periods of time, offering two entwined stories full of adventure, mystery and intrigue.
Thirteen-year-old problematic Sarah gets dropped on the doorstep of Tom, her grandfather who did not even know she existed, on the eve of an epic hike to visit his own grandfather’s grave. Together with Tom’s Native friend William and his daughter Myra, Sarah is dragged along on a journey that, in spite of herself, will change her life forever.
As the four make their way through millenia-old trails and valleys that exude history, Sarah becomes, slowly and almost without realizing it, part of what becomes her first real family. During the hike though, the young girl runs away and goes missing, just to reappear eight days later, bruised and confused. That’s when the magical part of the story really begins. And that’s also when things get ugly because, while escaping, Sarah took with her and lost an ancient object that belonged to William, one that might be a fundamental piece of history.
Unfortunately for the group, an unscrupulous company with a mean streak is interested in the same object, but definitely for more belligerent motives. The artifact, if found and dated, could preclude forever their mining activities.
The book definitely has some positive aspects. The author's knowledge of the area really shines through and played a big role in my enjoyment of the book. You can quite literally follow the steps of the characters and breathe the pristine nature around them. Moreover, the story touches many topics of current interest, such as environment protection and abuse, just to list a couple.
I was initially let down by the ending. I felt as though the story was left unfinished. However, after mulling over it, I realized there could not have been a different conclusion, because we have no way of knowing the real origins of natives in North America for lack of actual data. The result is that we are left to draw our own conclusions. Sheldon opens the novel with a wonderful and very significant quote by T.S. Eliot: “We shall not cease from exploring, And the end of our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”
The editing, unfortunately, is a whole different story. The book needs some serious polishing. For a start, there are many sentences interrupted and wrapped onto the next line, so I found it hard sometimes to follow the story. At the beginning of the book there are some useful drawings and maps which unfortunately show only on the laptop and not on my Kindle reader. But what bothered me more were the descriptive parts. There are paragraphs with short and abrupt sentences, so telegraphic that more than once they pulled me out of the story because they broke the flow of the narration. Some of dialogues were weird and felt forced, making me wonder if they would have sounded better transposed to descriptions.
The result of all this is that I’m left with mixed feelings about this book. All the themes tackled are surely compelling and I was especially intrigued by the mystic bond between present and past. But I was slightly disappointed in the little growth for most of the characters, especially in regard to Sarah and Tom, which I felt was the core relationship of the book but was barely brushed.
That’s why I’m rating this book 3 out of 4 stars. I recommend it first of all to anyone intrigued by Native American history, because you will not be disappointed in the amount of information and food for thought this novel offers. So, if you are looking for legends and a mystic-based reconstruction of millenia-old civilizations, this book is a must-read! I strongly advise, though, to check before reading the useful maps provided by Sheldon on the very first pages of the book.
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