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James Houston.
Toronto, ON: McClelland & Stewart, 1989.
320pp., paper, $26.95.
ISBN 0-7710-4262-0. CIP.

Grades 10 and up / Ages 15 and up

Reviewed by Alan Thomas.

Volume 18 Number 2
1990 March

James Houston's first novel of northern native life was The White Dawn (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1983), a story set among the Eskimo. It was highly successful in the use of authentic details of native life and established Houston as a master of popularized history and anthropology.

He has written several novels in the genre subsequently. His latest, Running West, is a similar popular presentation of life in the era of the early fur trade among the people of the northwest: Scottish traders, Cree and other native groups. The hero of this historical novel is a young Scot, William Stewart, who arrives at York Factory in 1714, the year the Hudson's Bay Company repossessed the fort from the French by treaty arrangement. Williyumm, as he is called by Thana, his young woman and travelling mate, is sent out by the governor to reach the land of her people, the Chipewyan. He is to encourage trade and to look for gold. The journey and return are full of dramatic events and are very well told.

Houston has built the story from fragmentary remarks in the journals of the governor of York Factory and his assistants. The real "Wm. Stewart" of the journals attested to the remarkable spirit of his real companion, Thanadelthur, who appears to have been a true heroine - invaluable in a crisis as linguist, negotiator and peace-maker. On her untimely death in 1717 Governor Knight wrote, "I am almost ready to break my heart . . . at the parting death of that good woman, who was of the greatest courage . . . that ever I see in all my days."

The excellent jacket and text illustrations are also drawn by this skilled writer of romantic fictions of northern life. High school students will truly find Houston's book a pleasure and an education; it is a gripping read.

Alan Thomas, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON.
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