Young Charles Wentworth, motherless from infancy, is raised by his beloved Puritan minister father to lead a pious life in early 17th-century England. From his childhood, he witnesses the everyday occurrences of terrible disease, poverty, harsh punishments, and crime, and he suffers a personal crisis in faith, realizing he cannot live up to his father’s high standards. Educated at Cambridge and sent to London to make his way after his father’s death, Charles finds work as a law clerk and romance with his employer’s daughter, Sarah. When tragedy strikes, the brokenhearted Charles decides to take ship to the Plymouth Colony in the wilderness of New England in 1622 in hopes of finding redemption.
Onboard, he meets Henry Winslow and his sister Abigail, who are also seeking a life of religious freedom and peace. Charles finds himself drawn to the pale and pretty Abigail, but they are separated for a year, as Charles, determined to further his goal to find God’s salvation and aid the struggling colony, agrees to help found a new settlement up the coast. During the course of this daring adventure, he discovers that New England, even with its issues of starvation, greed, harsh winters, and Indian problems, holds bright promise for those looking to affirm their spiritual faith and lead a new life of freedom. When news arrives from England that could prove life-changing, Charles knows where his heart and soul lie.
Nissenson has penned a bleak, unsparing novel, peopled with flawed humans and accurate period details. It’s not for the faint of heart (plenty of graphic violence here) and at times a real downer, but always with hope lingering in the background.