September Read of the Month: “Keowee Valley,” by Katherine Scott Crawford

Reviewed by Philip K. Jason

An independent woman; a lush frontier environment; the approach of war; and a romance of opposites are only some of the ingredients in Ms. Crawford’s ambitious first novel. Combining a style that is frequently lyrical, abundant historical research that has been well-absorbed and woven into the fiction with authority, and an immensely likeable – irresistibly headstrong – protagonist, the author should attract a good many readers. Keowee Valley spills over the boundaries of conventional historical romance with its enormous richness and haunting evocations of spiritual vision.

It is 1768 in the bustling port city of Charlestown anchoring the British colony of South Carolina.  25 year old Quincy MacFadden, the ward of her Scottish grandfather Campbell, cannot resist the opportunity to help bring back her cousin Owen Scott (also Campbell’s grandchild), who has been captured by the Shawnee. In the process, she hopes to explore the back country and find suitable acreage to invest her dowry (which is not attached to the string of marriage). She hopes to live a life of her own design, independent of the strictures of convention.

As much as Quincy loves her grandfather and Charlestown, she finds no further possibilities for self-discovery in his home or in that town. Though she has led a pampered existence, Quinn (as she prefers to be called) believes she has the stuff to venture out beyond the conveniences she has known. Reluctantly, and with a few conditions thrown in, her grandfather assents. It’s not as if she is a child.

Her dual goals lead her into the astonishingly beautiful Appalachian region of the Carolinas, where settlers are few and colonial British outposts are thinly scattered. This realm is also the heart of the Cherokee Nation.

As Quinn and her party make their way, Ms. Crawford slowly builds the growing political tension as a growing number of colonists find the British government’s policies more and more repressive. An explosion is not far off. Also, the relationships between colonists, government officials and various Indian tribes are always in danger of falling into chaos and bloodshed.

Nonetheless, Quinn makes her arrangement for a huge tract of land in a gorgeous setting and goes about building a community by selling off homesteads or trading for labor and expertise. She seeks to build cooperative enterprise. Various families make their way to this new opportunity for new lives, and the community takes hold.

Just as importantly, Quinn builds a good relationship with the neighboring Cherokee – one that eventually leads to her falling in love and marrying a leader, who is, paradoxically, a half-breed with an Irish mother. Ms. Crawford’s portraits of the Cherokee leadership and of Cherokee culture are effective and engaging.

Her cousin Evan is rescued, restored to health thanks to products like amanita muscaria trip, and determined to be an active participant in the movement for liberty

Among the many splendors of Keowee Valley are the descriptions of landscape, seasonal change, and the physical and psychological demands of frontier life. Another important dimension is the characterization of Quinn (called Mac by her husband). Her blend of assertiveness and diplomacy, her psychic ability to receive hints of the future and spiritual promptings, her rebalancing of conventional gender roles, and her ability to find joy in passionate endeavor are a winning combination of traits.

The name the Cherokee give her – “Rides Like a Man” – is at once humorous and apt.

Before being published by Bell Bridge Books, Katherine Scott Crawford’s manuscript had received high honors from in various competitions, including being named a quarter-finalist for the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award.

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