If you enjoy a novel that details the pilgrimage of a person physically, spiritually, and personally and is historical fiction based on and laced with several artifacts of a true account of their lives, then Emma of Aurora by Jane Kirkpatrick is a trilogy you will enjoy. From the first page of the first novel to the last page of the set, it is a gripping story based on the life of Emma Wagner Giesy who lived in a Christian colony in Bethel, Missouri and was a pilgrim of sorts, along with her husband and a handful of others, to find a new place for the colony to settle in the Oregon Territory in the 1850s. Her spirited, yet giving character will wrap you up and make you wishing there was another page to turn after the final chapter is done.
In the first novel, A Clearing in the Wild, we meet Emma who is a very young adult with a spirit the colony’s leader, Father Keil, would love to tame. Wanting to be unique from the rest of the colony, she a ruffle sewn into her skirt when ornamentation is pretty much forbidden in the colony, and even the thought of abiding by the colony’s rules are unthinkable to her because it takes away her individuality. Her untamed spirit draws one of the colony’s missonaries to admire her, and eventually after much persuasion to the colony leader, they convince him to let her marry the missionary, Christian- only because the leader believes that sending her out to scout new territory to for the colony to relocate to in Oregon will be punishment for her “wild” ways and to tame her spirit. With some resentment to the colony’s leader, and a surprise new life growing inside her, Emma and Christian head out, with select other colony men to settle the land. At first Emma has a difficult time adjusting to the new land, but as they begin to learn about it and tame it, she eventually comes to love the land called Willapa. When half of the other settlers in Bethel come out with Father Keil, they detest Willapa and it’s hardships with the land and decide they want to leave and find a new location for the colony and find Aurora. Emma and some of the first settlers stay behind in Willapa because it was a place they selected an they feel God had called them there.
A Tendering in the Storm, the second novel, starts off where the first one ended, but in a slightly different format. Instead of taking one side of the story, Jane Kirkpatrick decides to incorporate the view of not only Emma’s story, but how the wife of Father Keil might have felt about things, with much loyalty to her husband and his ways. Emma and Christian are adjusting well to the land and have 2 little ones. Christian has accepted the role of sheriff and travels around the territory as well as oysters when he is around home, and like most wives, Emma is missing him horribly and savors the time he is at home. At one point, she misses him so much that she goes to see him where he works and all is well until she thinks he left behind his compass. Concerned that he’ll need it she goes to bring it back to him and at the same time he notices an old man struggling with a boat, so he goes to help him and the boat capsizes with him in it and Emma’s life changes forever. She realizes she has 2 small ones to take care of, and another on the way that Christian never found out about, Emma feels that the kids need a man to help raise them and meets Jack, who seems like a nice bachelor. Not agreeing to how Father Keil has a say on who should marry or not, she and Jack decide to go for a trip to an outside community to get married. Shortly after their marriage, Emma realizes that Jack is not the guy she thought he was and her stubbornness really helps her out in the situation because she is determined to somehow save her children from being raised by him, especially after he abuses her oldest son. She does the only thing she can think of, after her parents did not respond to her pleas for help, and decides to go to the place she despises for sanctuary from Jack, Aurora. In the meantime, she finds out that she is pregnant with Jack’s baby. After some reluctance of her willfulness in the past, Father Keil decides to take her in realizing how Jack is as a person, and tells her that if she had asked if she could marry him, he would have said no because of his person. At this point, Emma has learned a respect for Father Keil, now called Brother Keil. As we end the story, Emma is asking the colony to build her a house for her family since her husband was a great man in the colony.
In the beginning of A Mending at the Edge, her own house seems far off for Emma as other plans within the colony for a church and other buildings seem to have taken presidence. Emma keeps reminding Brother Keil of his promise to build her a house and let’s him know that she plans to use it to help practice the colony’s policy “The Diamond Rule”- to make another’s life better than their own. She wants a house with two front doors so she can take in other women of the colony who have been mistreated like she was with Jack or outcasted. Eventually, Emma does get her house, but she is forced to give up her two sons to another male colony member since she does not have a male in her household to help raise them. She is outraged at first, but eventually comes to realize that this could be the best chance for the to become the men they need to be. In this book, we can see how Emma still keeps her spirit, but since it takes place in the late 1860s, she is now years past when we first meet her and has become more gentle in her spirited ways. We see how she truly did take others in to her “two doored house” and tried to make lives better than her own and eventually, she does come to see how the colony can be helpful, but how she can still keep her individuality within it.
Jane Kirkpatrick did a fantastic job of creating an interesting novel, but yet staying true to the real life character of Emma and every character we meet in the colony. I felt like I knew Emma personally and took a journey with her and was not ready to give up her character yet, but like every good book, sooner or later it ends. In the ending Author’s Notes, she provides a synopsis of Emma’s life. Even though we don’t take a journey with her completely to the end, which might be more difficult than not reading about the rest of her life, Jane does a great job of completing the story.
To check out a preview of this book or order a copy, you can click here
WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group provided this book to me for free in exchange for this honest review as part of their Blogging for Books program