The Beaten Territory by Randi Samuelson-Brown

4.5 Stars (4.5 / 5)

The Beaten Territory is a fast-paced, deeply textured tale of three women whose lives interconnect in late nineteenth century Denver. Annie, enmeshed in the prostitution trade, yearns to become an independent businesswoman, with her own saloon and brothel. Lydia, owner of the building Annie rents, is drawn to Hop Alley and the opium dents to supplement her laudanum additions while her naiveté exposes her to risks she doesn’t suspect. Annie’s niece, Pearl, is nurtured into the trade by her aunt and is soon trapped into a life of prostitution. Attractive and resentful, she plays the game, waiting for her chance to get out. The lives of the three women intertwine, but each exists in her own world, none knowing enough about the others’ affairs to sense how much of a spider-web their lives eventually become. When each attempts to satisfy her own goal, all are put in danger.

Samuelson-Brown’s use of vivid, metaphorical language brings historic Denver and surrounding towns to life. Many passages are almost lyrical in tone without subtracting from the story itself—a delicate balance. Her secondary characters convey the shadiness of the red-light districts of the past and add depth to the story. Setting and flavor are admirably accomplished.

But it is the masterful weaving of individual stories that makes this novel stand out as unique. At the onset, each character has her own separate story. Annie, Lydia, and Pearl each have dreams as well as flaws that hold them back. Samuelson-Brown adeptly establishes each of the three as sympathetic while never losing track of the rough edges that make them who they are. As she winds the three plotlines together into a complicated tapestry, she reminds the reader of the tragic influences of the underworld. The story is a captivating yet realistic glimpse into prostitution in the Old West and how trapped such women became, despite their strengths.

Promised to the Crown (Daughters of New France) by Aimie K. Runyan

3.5 Stars (3.5 / 5)

In 1667, King Louis XIV created a program to promote emigration of young women to New France as wives for Canadian colonists. Promised to the Crown follows the story of three fictional young women who answer the call. Rose leaves a bleak life in a charity hospital; Nicole hopes for a better future than that promised for a poor farmer’s daughter; Elizabeth flees her mother’s schemes for her future.  Each has her own demons, her own dreams, and her own story.

 

Runyan masterfully creates a composite tale, combining accounts of many of the real King’s Daughters into a single captivating story that weaves the lives of three women together.  She is able to create characters with believable flaws and complicated histories. Her adept merging of historical facts from the lives of many women to build these three distinct protagonists speaks to Runyan’s skill as both a researcher and a writer. Each woman responds uniquely to the unexpected realities of Quebec: its harsh climate, difficult conditions, the sometimes discouraging attitudes of those already there.  Expectations are tested when Rose, Nicole, and Elizabeth discover life in New France to be different than anticipated. All three women demonstrate resiliency as they adapt and grow. Historical information not utilized for her main characters is highlighted via dialogue and secondary characters.

 

Each of the women in the novel has faults and makes choices that can sometimes be a bit exasperating to the modern reader. It is a credit to Runyan’s skill that she is able to motivate their seventeenth-century responses with backstory. Her careful construction of their personalities allows us to identify with them despite the span of time and culture that separates us from them.  The book is worth the read to glean a glimpse of this often forgotten chapter of history.