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on 12 August 2004
Margaret Elphinstone deserves to be more widely read. This is her most ambitious and complex novel yet, and a deeper look at the themes explored in "The Sea Road" and "Hy Brazil". A journey across the Atlantic into the heart of Canada, a nation still in the process of formation, causes a young Quaker man to question every value and code of behaviour he has taken for granted. What began as a quest to discover the fate of his sister, who has mysteriously vanished into the wilderness, becomes a thrilling and disturbing encounter with a rich and complex civilization he has hitherto dismissed as "heathen savages".
Margaret Elphinstone wrote this book whilst on secondment to the University of Michigan, and travelled by canoe herself to research it. The attention to detail shows, as the landscape of the Canadian borderlands is brought vividly to life, and so completely does she inhabit the mind of her narrator and mimic the form of a genuine memoir, that the reader feels as if they are travelling beside him as his journey changes him to the depths of his being.
In addition, the story is well-paced and gripping; the pages turn quickly as the reader draws closer to the solution to the mystery, but there are no straightforward answers; the purpose of the journey becomes less important than the experience itself, both for the narrator and for the reader.
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on 11 March 2016
I tried to like this book but found it rather dull I'm afraid. I got as far as page 102 and then gave in. Its full of historical detail which seems well researched but I just kept wanting something interesting to happen. Maybe it does on page 103 but I'd lost patience before then. I cant actually say that its bad but it's not for me.
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on 17 May 2010
I would recommend this book to anyone. It is deeply researched, on every level, and shows a clear-headed understanding of the human psyche. It is a an epic, rich satisfying tale of a man's personal journey - physical and emotional - and the people he meets on the way, from his sheltered life as a Quaker in the Lake District to the wilds of Canada. It gives an incredible insight into the lives of the early fur traders, and the historical events surrounding them, as well as painting a sympathetic portrait of the Quakers. I was sad to put the book down at the end.
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on 12 December 2010
Since reading this novel I have bought two more copies as Christmas presents. It is written in the form of a fictional memoir, and tells the story of Mark Greenhow, a young Quaker from the English Lake District, who travels to Canada in the 1800s to search for his missing sister. The story, with this mystery at its heart, retains its hold through a long, complicated, but deeply satisfying narrative involving the Native American tribes and the various nationalities engaged in the fur trade around the Great Lakes. The story is meticulously researched and there are wonderful descriptions of landscape and weather and the struggle for survival in winter. The main characters have real depth, and Mark's memoir, with its digressions and footnotes about his subsequent life and faith, shows how he changes in response to his extraordinary experiences.

Although I liked the leisurely pace of this book, I felt that the narrative was over-long in places and that some pruning, particularly of details about the war, would have improved it. However, I would definitely recommend it to anyone who enjoys historical novels. It's a most unusual story, full of interest and variety.
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on 9 July 2010
On opening this novel I felt as though I had stumbled upon a lost masterpiece by Robert Louis Stevenson. As a narrator Mark Greenhow is as engagingly out-of-water as Davy Balfour, whilst Alan MacKenzie has more than a touch of Alan Breck, and the evocation of the North American wilderness might bring to mind the Master of Ballantrae. Stylistically Elphinstone also more than warrants the comparison; this is the literary novel as page-turner. The research is impressive but used judiciously, descriptions are evocative without being self-conscious, and psychologically the novel convinces. A thoroughly good read.
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on 1 February 2014
Voyageurs is a novel about a Quaker from a community in North England who travels to Canada to search for his missing sister, around the time when the US and Britain / Canada were just about to go to war.

Quakers are well-known for pacifism (and, these days, for tolerance / being a religion that champions equality). But at the time that this book is set, they were also very insular, holding their own cult apart from the wider world. Hedonism and joy are seen as frivolous (as is literature and song!), so quiet appreciation rather than exuberance is valued. They are portrayed as people who take themselves - and moral reflection - very seriously.

It's a slow novel, enjoyable because it puts the reader in a different time, place and culture. Multiple cultures, really: our narrator is a Quaker, but he spends time with voyageurs (fur traders), natives and settlers. For most of the book, you don't really know whether the main mystery will be resolved - the odds seem insurmountable. So it's the conflict between a devout pacifist and the various societies readying themselves for war which drives much of the tension. And, of course, the difficulties our narrator has with his own nature (which is somewhat less peace-loving and more capable of lust & outbursts than he would like).

It's a book with lots of description, quite a few scenes where people sit around and tell each other their life stories (but then, what else would they do when they are stuck with each other for a long time?), and a story which includes the odd moment of shock - but not necessarily tension. Big events happen, but there is rarely build-up.

This all contributes to making it a slow and mellow read - I enjoyed it for its power of displacing me, and for a sense of a time and a world I had not really thought about very much. But it's definitely no thriller. It almost reads like a good novelisation of non-fiction events (i.e. similar to Nathaniel Philbrick's novels), even though it is pure fiction. That achievement is a testament to the attention to detail of the writer. I would recommend this book to any patient reader with an interest in historical fiction, Canada, and pioneers.
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on 16 August 2013
Every story ought to have a beginning a middle and an end. Disappointingly, although this tale takes you on an adventure into a Canadian world that no longer exists, the story suddenly and abruptly stops without ending. It is as if the author either couldn't make her mind up how to bring it to a conclusion or just got tired of it and decided to cut it off. Another major irritation is that she insists on calling men from Scotland "Scotchmen". Scotch is a whiskey not a nationality. A man from Scotland is either Scottish or is a Scotsman. There is a reference in the story to a Scottish hill, the Cobbler. The Cobler is a smallish hill in the Arrochar Alps range and is dwarfed by its
Neighbours Narnairn and Ime. It can be climbed in about an hour so to "reduce the previous record by half an hour" is improbable nonsense. Another book by the same author, 'The Sea Road', suffers from the same untimely and sudden stopping of the story. A shame really.. They were both reasonable yarns.
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on 2 July 2013
This is an excellent novel, which covers in depth life in the borders between Canada and the USA the early 19th Century. It seems clear that this provided some of the inspiration for Steph Penney's The Tenderness of Wolves which was published two years later.

I have a big gripe about this Kindle version though - there are transcription errors throughout - it's almost as if some spell checker has altered words such as 'fur' into 'far' - I have serious doubts about buying e-books in future.
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on 22 March 2012
This is written as the diary of a young Quaker from the english Lake District travelling in the wilds of canada.It is very unusual novel but I enjoyed it more than any book I have read for a long time and immediately looked for more by this author. The historical and geographical details are meticulous making the diary seem almost real. There are tantalising glimpses throughout of how the story might end-but you can't be quite certain which keeps you turning the pages.
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on 22 June 2012
Engrossing tale,beautifully written. Set in 19th century Canada, when a female Quaker missionary from England disappears in the wilderness, this adventure carries one along with the search led by her brother, using the fur trader routes across much wild landscape. Some readers may find this over long, but it gives a realistic feel to Canada in the 1800s.
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