Isa and her young family emigrate from the tiny Orkney island of Raumsey to Alberta, where her parents are already living. An unfortunate young English girl, Sarah, happens to arrive at the same time, destined to marry a friend of her father’s, who is much older than she. The vastness of the prairie environment and the harsh climate prove enormously challenging for the newcomers. Hard work, tight finances and cruel weather strain Isa and Davie’s marriage and he spends months up north working on the paddle steamers.
When the Great War breaks out in Europe, Davie leaves to fight in France. Little Dan and baby Annie grow up and Isa scrapes through with the help of a Native American, Pierre.
We get painful glimpses of the horrors of war through the eyes of Davie, Sarah, now a trained nurse, and Isa’s earlier friend, the Presbyterian minister Donald Charleston, who is serving as an army chaplain.
Lives are lost, hearts are broken and tragedies occur before the war finally ends and Isa and Annie return to Raumsey.
This is a well-researched and enthralling book with captivating characters, unexpected twists and some exceptional turns of phrase, such as “Daffodils danced along the walls of the church”, “he was astute and sharp as broken glass”, “large snowflakes, soft as moths, began to fall”, “memories dribbled in like a heavy smog”, “eyes, twin pieces of midnight fallen from the sky”.