The Northern Lights Trilogy by Lisa Tawn Bergren
The Northern Lights Trilogy is different from most that I have read because the three stories are really one nearly seamless extended story. It works best to read these three in order to get the sense of the larger picture. The first book, The Captain’s Bride, introduces all the main characters, members of a small community church in Bergen, Norway, mostly couples and families who were leaving together to begin new lives in America. All throughout the tale, these characters’ struggles and desires, dreams and goals, failures and heartaches are intertwined together so that the reader catches a sense of family even when the group split up and part of them settled in the Great Plains while the other group remained on the east coast to begin a shipyard and shipping business.
One of the most heart wrenching yet rewarding stories is about Tora. She was only 16 when she stowed away on the ship that would take the group to America. On being discovered, she was dismayed to find she must work to earn her passage across the ocean in either the kitchen for the cook, or as a nanny for the second mate’s children. As the reader learns soon, she was cunning, scheming, self-centered, and a drama queen. She could only see the world from her point of view. Once in America, she discovered she was pregnant, and after her time of service was over she left the group to strike out on her own. After she gave birth, she left the baby with Kaatje in North Dakota, revealing that the baby’s daddy was Kaatje’s husband’s. Kaatje was left to raise her own child and Tora’s, while her straying husband disappeared. Tora found work in Minnesota and rose in the ranks to become in charge of the company’s roadhouses. However, her ethics were in question, growing greedier and power hungry over time.
Soren had always had a wandering eye for pretty females and often dishonored his wife and child by wanderlust and irresponsibility. Kaatje hoped things would be different in America. Kaatje’s best friend Elsa married Peder, who captained his own ship and established the east coast shipyard. He and Karl worked together as partners in their new business venture, as well as together on ships as captain and first mate. The three of them, Peder, Elsa and Karl had grown up together in Bergen. However, into their idelic relationship creeps temptation and the relationships turned into a love triangle until Karl forced himself to leave and strike out on his own. Like Tora, he also ended up in Minnesota where he was taken in by an influential businessman.
In the second book, Deep Harbor, during a bout of malaria, Peder wandered onto deck while their ships were tossed about by a storm, and eventually fell overboard. They never found him again, and Elsa had to deal with her grief and rearing her two children as a widow. But she turned things around eventually and even captained her own ship. A scoundrel pirate began to threaten her and eventually abducted her in China. In the meantime, Karl had escaped the clutches of the unethical businessman and successfully created his own business ventures in the expanding terrories of the West, establishing shipping lines along the westward railroads. Tora had been rejected from her business by the owner Trent Storm who was in love with her, but had discovered her lies about herself. He let her go hoping she would be honest with him for once. But the plan backfired and when she lost everything she owned she fled further west and eventually become a teacher in the prairie. The man who loved her sent out a detective to find her.
In the third book, Midnight Sun, Kaatje had been abandoned by Soren for over four years when the tale resumes, and she has decided to go searching for him in the new territory of Alaska where she heard he had staked a claim and was working a gold mine. Tora had been abducted, abused and raped by a passing drover, and put on a train for Washington territory. Once in Seattle, she was basically lost for a period of time. Kaatje and the part of the community that had established homesteads in the Dakotas had moved to the Washington territory where they found a valley and created a prosperous community. Karl eventually found the community and visited them often between voyages on his new steam powered ships. Elsa finally found peace being captain of her own ship and owner of the prospering Ramstad shipyards, so she returned to sea often, along with a nanny and her two children. One day, while in port, she found Karl and they renewed their friendship. Eventually Tora discovered a genuine relationship with the Lord during her stay in Seattle. To make amends, she has become determined to serve Kaatje as a sign that she sought genuine forgiveness for abandoning baby Jessica with Kaatje. They work the farm together, and eventually traveled to Alaska.
All things come to head in the final chapters of book three. Many loose ends get tied up. There are some surprises at the end of the story and you realize the main plotline wasn’t what you expected. These books wove together some great adventures, growth, tragedies, and reconciliations. The dialog fits well the situations and the era of the storyline (1880’s). The characters live and breath in a reader’s heart as well as the pages. I appreciate the historical value and the amount of research that went into making the details as realistic as possible. This trilogy ranks up with my top favorite reads and I’m sure I will read it again many times.
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