Savage Lands is a story about the first French settlers to come to America and the women who were sent immediately following to be their wives. Elisabeth Savaret is sent by her family to marry a man she’d never met in Louisiana, and she is as surprised as anyone else when she finds herself falling in love with her husband, Jean-Claude. Along with Elisabeth’s story is the story of Auguste, a young man who is sent to live among the savages in the New World in order to gain alliance with the tribes to strengthen France’s position against the English. Throughout this sprawling historical novel, as Elisabeth and Auguste’s lives intersect, the reader is treated to a beautiful description of what life was like for those first settlers in the New World.
I’m not sure what made me pick up Savage Lands, as based on what the book jacket says I wouldn’t think I’d enjoy it (I must have read a glowing review or something). But I did really like the book, and I actually think it would appeal to lots of different kinds of readers.
First of all, there’s the historical fiction aspect. Any lover of historical fiction will be entranced by the descriptions of the Southern United States three hundred years before the present day. I thought this was one of the best things about the book – I completely immersed myself in the world drawn by Clark, I felt like I jumped right into Louisiana and experienced it right along with Elisabeth, that’s how vivid and wonderful her descriptions were.
Also, Savage Lands has adventure! Lots of it! It has men going to war with Native Americans, English and French against each other, everyone dealing with not enough food, unfamiliar sicknesses and no medicines, and people generally being very upset at living in this “godforsaken place”. I have to admit that the adventure bits were my least favorite parts of the book, but for many readers they do add that certain something.
But what really made the book go from good to great for me was the beautifully drawn, completely complex characters Clark presented. Elisabeth is a woman I could really become friends with – I loved her tenacity, her spirit, the way she didn’t become like all the other women just because it was expected of her, the way she loved Jean-Claude with her whole heart, everything about her I loved. She was not without her faults, of course, which helped me believe in her character and root for her throughout the entire book. I liked Auguste’s character less, but I still found him to be a fully realized, expertly drawn character that I could absolutely believe in and get behind. Without these amazingly rendered characters this story would have just been a story – but because of this aspect, to me, it felt completely real.
Savage Lands is an excellent read with a little something for everyone. I haven’t seen this one around too much, so I’m here to tell you – don’t miss it!