A sequel of sorts to the historical mystery series starring midwife Hannah Trevor, this work of “straight” fiction brings her deaf daughter Jennet, now a woman of twenty-nine, to the forefront. The setting has moved from the previous novels’ Maine to upstate New York, in winter of the year 1809. Marked as indigent after her mother’s death, Jennet – known to townsfolk as the “wild girl” – is put up for auction. Winning the bid is John Frayne, a frontiersman recently returned from life out west in order to reclaim his son as well as his father’s lands. The pair form an alliance, uneasy at first because of their independent natures, but not surprisingly their mutual bond deepens.
This novel is essentially one of rescue and rediscovery, for both Jennet and Frayne have lived through horrific experiences, and each sees in the other the only way back to life. Though a literary novel, with its present tense verbs and poetic turns of phrase, it’s one without obscurity. Some scenes are overly dramatic, including one in which Jennet uses her loom to weave pure ice (hence the title). The characters all come alive, however, with realistic dialogue (this novel could easily be the basis of a theatrical production), and the setting’s so authentic that you might be hard pressed to wrap yourself in a blanket against the icy winter winds while reading. It’s an unsentimental portrait of the harsh life in a newly formed country, but there’s warmth here as well – though its discovery, like all worthwhile things, takes time.