The Pursuit of Tamsen Littlejohn: A Novel by Lori Benton
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The term pursuit is apt for this historical fiction romance because it describes the many facets of the story’s events, beginning with the first chapters.
In spite of her pampered background, Tamsen was not the type of woman to allow others to take her over and control her. She wanted a voice in her destiny, contrary to the custom of the day. So when her stepfather arranged a suitor for her, she would not cooperate with the arrangement unless she wanted to. Her stepfather only cared for his own gain, without thought to Tamsen’s welfare. After only one meeting with Ambrose Kincaid, plantation owner, she saw only entrapment and decided to flee the village of Morganton as soon as possible. She would have done it sooner but for her mother. It was not soon enough to escape her stepfather’s cruelty to her mother. In a fit of rage, he struck her mother down in Tamsen’s presence. Horror stricken, she fled with the aid of a young man she’d met briefly in the stables.
Jesse Bird and his pa, Cade, were rugged men of the North Carolina mountains–trappers, drovers, hunters, wagon train guides, sometimes wanderers. They’d arrived in Morganton at the tail end of a cattle drive and were soon to embark on a trek out west guiding a group of settlers. Jesse caught a fleeting glimpse of Tamsen in town and was struck by her beauty. It was no wonder when she asked him to help her escape a day later that he was ready to move the world for her.
It was a good thing Jesse and his pa were Godly men with principles. Jesse knew exactly what to do. Cade would guide the wagon train while Jesse traveled a parallel but lesser known trace to avoid being seen. Tamsen, grief stricken about her mother’s cruel death and the abrupt circumstances depended completely on their good will. It was unfortunate then, when they encountered Charlie Spencer, a trapper on the trail with his pack mules who stopped to talk with them. Jesse claimed they were a newly wed couple, but Charlie didn’t think Tamsen looked like a blushing bride. She looked haggard. And once Charlie arrived in Morganton, he learned what he thought was the truth, that Tamsen had been abducted by her mother’s murderer. The trapper agreed to guide Tamsen’s stepfather and her would-be suitor in the search for her. The pursuit was on.
Eventually the trio arrived at the men’s cabin, in a remote corner of Tate Allard’s settlement, Greenbird Cove, where they often exchanged labor for the privilege. Tamsen, always waited on hand and foot by slaves, quickly learned just how much she did not know about day to day living skills. Tate’s wife and daughter took her under their wing to teach her, while the men learned to tolerate her cooking. They were there only a few weeks before the search party came near enough to them that they were forced to flee again, this time hiding out in a friendly Cherokee village; Thunder Going Away was a friend of Jesse and Cade. Again, Tamsen learned to adapt and take on new skills, as well as a few words in Cherokee, trying to prove her worth to Jesse and to herself. But even with friends in the small native village, they were at risk of a different nature–a historical upheaval, the establishment of a new state in the hills of east Tennessee and west North Carolina. They were again forced to run for their lives.
While The Pursuit of Tamsen Littlejohn is a historical fiction romance, the history by no means overtakes the major plot, Tamsen’s escape from her stepfather. The history is interesting, plays an important role in both aiding and thwarting the trio’s efforts to find a refuge. I enjoyed that element of the story because I had never heard of the state of Franklin and the struggles in the Carolinas of the late 18th century before reading this book. I so much appreciate the research the author put into it, especially for the tidbits that made this book come alive. The author also included an Author’s Notes and Acknowledgments section at the back of the book detailing her research. I enjoy this as much as I love commentaries on my favorite movies. More authors should include this in their writings.
In this book there is more than one type of pursuit within its pages. The first is obvious and accounts for the exciting action. The second is the romance developing between Jesse Bird and Tamsen. Jesse believed she was the one for him, sanctioned even by God. From the first day of their flight, he was determined win her trust and convince her of his dependability to care for her. The author didn’t portray Jesse as a perfect man. He knew his failings. You can’t help but admire his patience and determination, his strength of character and his skills. The development of their relationship from rescuer/damsel-in-distress, to companions, to romance is a lovely story in and of itself. I came to care for these characters, even the mysterious Cade.
Amidst the excitement and suspense of the chase and the quest for a peaceful sanctuary, there is a third type of pursuit going on. Jesse, Tamsen and even Cade needed to come to terms with the new direction their lives were going. For Tamsen, it was a personal journey to find herself for the first time in her life. She was moving from grief, fear, insecurity, dependence and distrust to finding her independence, her place in life. Jesse knew his life would never be the same. He had someone to care for, someone who needed him. And Cade, too, realizes his adopted son is his own man now. The author masterfully works out this conflict/resolution for each character individually and collectively, as a family growing to care for each other. It’s one thing that makes this tale so endearing for me.
I am also impressed with the way this author has given her readers a glimpse of the warmth of family life and friendship Jesse and Cade held with many of the local Native Americans, especially the Cherokee who regard them as kin. The amusing way Tamsen met Catches Bears for the first time will be memorable for me for a long time to come. And the peace they found living in Thunder Going Away’s village is a meaningful contrast to the conflict and suspense in the rest of the book.
Finally, the author provides a twist of circumstances at the end that I had not anticipated. While this is secondary to the main resolution of the story, it provides a very satisfying conclusion with a touch of irony. I definitely recommend this book for anyone who enjoys historical fiction romances. This book has much to offer.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from Blogging for Books on behalf of Waterbrook Press. I was not required to write a positive review.The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
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