Tidewater

Written by Libbie Hawker
Review by Elizabeth Knowles

Jamestown, Virginia Colony, 1607. This long novel is a retelling of the Pocahontas and John Smith story. Opening with Pocahontas as a child, and John Smith newly arrived in the colony with the Virginia Company, it shows the misery endured by colonists who did not know how to survive in the New World. The “Real People,” on the other hand, live a comfortable life in tune with nature. They are led by Pocahontas’s father, the chief Powhatan, who has formed an empire of several tribes.

All attempts at understanding between the colonists and the Real People seem to end in heartbreak and tragedy—mostly for the colonists. Still, more and more of them come, and learn to survive and thrive by stealing the Real People’s food, by violence, and by treachery.

As Powhatan leads his people further into the forest, other voices are raised in discussion of what to do. There is Powhatan’s brother, Opechancanough, and the shaman, Utta-ma-tomakkin. One tribe sides with the English, selling Pocahontas into captivity. She feels this is a punishment for her earlier help to the English. She loves her husband, Kocoum, but after his death marries John Rolfe.

This story is generally well known, although told here with great historical detail. The sumptuous descriptions of life among the Real People are engrossing—the descriptions of Jamestown’s squalor, less so. The story weakens with Pocahontas’s relationship to John Rolfe. There is little emotion or detail to make their love come to life. Pocahontas’s fictional marriage to Kocoum seems more authentic than her real one to Rolfe.

A historical note indicates two factual inaccuracies, and includes a welcome pronunciation guide. Fans of Virginia colonial history should try this vibrant, well-written novel.