14 October 2009

The Day the Falls Stood Still by Cathy Marie Buchanan

Flap Copy from ARC: "The year is 1915, the dawn of the hydroelectric era in Niagra Falls. Seventeen-year-old Bess Heath has led a life of comfort and ease as the younger daughter of the director of the Niagra Power Company. But when a tragedy leaves her beautiful sister dead and her family disgraced, Bess's life is transformed beyond imagination.

At a time when the stunts of daredevils are as much fodder for town gossip as her own family's plight, when fortunes are made and lost as quickly as lives disappear, Bess must navigate suddenly unfamiliar territory. There to help her is Tom Cole, a handsome, rough-hewn riverman with a mystical ability to predict the whims of the river and the falls. His daring rescues render him a local hero - while launching a string of events that casts him as a threat to the power companies and puts Bess and Tom's future together to risk."

Set in Canadian Niagra between 1915 and 1923, Buchanan's debut novel is a historical, naturalist love story. With some characters and events loosely based on true historic figures and a looming and powerful Falls dominating nearly every page, this novel was certainly interesting but fell a little short on plot strength towards the end. I liked Bess and Tom, and was certainly rooting for them to succeed in life and love. I thought Tom especially was very well drawn - I found his deep and abiding relationship with the river and the falls to be both fascinating and a little chilling - that he was based on a real riverman of the era made him even more appealing. Their lives were perhaps overfull of tragic events, but I think that the realities of the era lend themselves well to such drama.

I think Buchanan's writing is clear and strong, and her characters are well-voiced. She captured the life of the times as well as the history and power of the Falls; she also incorporated a strong environmental message that would have been important then and still resonates now. I enjoyed the book, and would definitely recommend it with 3.5 stars - be prepared however, for a rushed and perhaps overly simple ending which in my opinion greatly reduced the impact of the novel as a whole.

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