This is an ambitious epic of the tumultuous 1750s, when Englishmen battled the French for ultimate control of North America. Quentin Hale, younger son of a landowning family on a New York plantation called Shadowbrook, often fought with his half-Indian stepbrother Cormac Shea while growing up. Now they stand firmly on the same side. Their goals: to keep Shadowbrook safe from takeover or ruin, either by war or by the greedy schemes of Quent’s older brother John, and to provide a homeland for the Indians to occupy after the war ends. As both Quent and Corm were adopted into the Potawatomi tribe as children, they feel the continual pull between both cultures. Nicole Crane, a half-English, half-French young woman, undergoes a similar struggle. Having vowed to join a convent in Quebec, Nicole finds her loyalties divided when she falls in love with Quent.
Swerling continues carving out a niche in relatively unexplored fictional territory: the Dutch colonization of America in City of Dreams, and the French and Indian War here. It was an exciting time, and readers will feel like they’re seeing history in the making. There are some slow bits in the middle, but mostly the action moves along at a nice pace. Subtitled “a novel of love, war, and the birth of America,” Shadowbrook is very much the last two, but the grand sweep of romance isn’t really there. The hero and heroine spend most of their time apart, occupied with more pressing concerns, and a second romantic subplot serves mainly to introduce the Acadians’ sad plight.
Overall, Swerling does the era justice. Readers unfamiliar with this period should read Shadowbrook for an entertaining history lesson.