Trumpeting the Mohawk trilogy
The satisfying third and final book in S. Minsos’ historical trilogy, Sky Walker Tehawennihárhos Charter follows the nineteenth-century disruption to Indigenous lands caused by European and American settlers.
As a young Mohawk in what is now known as Ontario, Squire Tehawennihárhos Davis—along with his cohorts, Scotchwoman Jennet Ferguson and Jeddah Golden, a man of mixed lineage from Appalachia—is tasked with coming into his own, both emotionally and financially, as the bankruptcy of the Grand River Navigation Company threatens his reality. The book comes with enough of an introduction and overview of the rest of the series so that it can stand on its own.
Despite being set over a century ago, the book tackles the intricacies of gender inequality and social relationships in a relatable manner, tying the struggles of its characters to contemporary issues.
Subplots of drama and romance add a coming-of-age element to the historical tale. Rich, vivid descriptions employ all the senses; they are one of the strongest aspects of the novel. A root is described as “as thick as a slinking python”; “a makeshift but colourfully patched tent … with a yellow sock-flag waving on the pole at the tent’s peak” appears at a fair. These details enrich the story and help build a world that’s undeniably intoxicating.
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The complexities of the era are thoroughly researched and accurately imparted, as evidenced by the detail in both the book and its lengthy introduction. These historical trials are never intrusive in the text; they are always incorporated in a relatable way.
The novel’s lovable, intricate characters and the challenges that they face every day, from protecting their lands to safeguarding their hearts, are an irresistible draw. Minsos concludes a three-part saga with Sky Walker Tehawennihárhos Charter, a satisfying narrative that weaves all characters and story lines together. Reviewed by Lillian Brown
See readings for more on the trilogy’s background material
Disclosure: This article is not an endorsement, but a review. The author of this book provided free copies of the book to a professional reviewer (Lillian Brown). Foreword Reviews and Clarion Reviews make no guarantee that the author will receive a positive review.
Jane Ainslie: Book 3 of the Mohawk Trilogy transports the reader to the lawless era of the mid-1800’s in central Canada. The compelling adventure in Charter picks up where The Battle of Vinegar Hill (book 2) leaves off, and the reader is engaged.
Minsos weaves the complex story through the eyes of an intriguing cast of characters representing a cross-section of ethnic, social and political backgrounds.
Protagonists are bound by the desire to forge a better life on the frontier but underlying the possibility of success are the constraints imposed by villains, to say nothing of the social norms of the day.
The author does not miss a beat in revealing the humour and hypocrisy of an era: “Paganism was simply not possible. Outrageous. Unthinkable. No one who wanted to be anyone in Canada West would dare call himself or herself a pagan. Not out loud. Not in Toronto. Not in Uxbridge. Not in Brantford. In Bytown — maybe.”
Minsos’ thorough research is evident in the saga’s numerous historical references. Main protagonist and antagonist meet at the new Union Hotel on Wilson Street, near the site of the Bloody Assize, where, in the War of 1812, the colonial courts tried and hanged and (perhaps) quartered treasonous Canadians who sided with Americans. Haunted by the image of heads stuck on pikes, Jennet Ferguson wants to leave Ancaster. ‘”Pshaw.’ Jeddah pulled the clean-ish sheets tight and smiled. ‘Trial was in t’other inn Jennet.'”
Charter is the last installment of an authentic and captivating chronicle that – distribution gods willing – will find a forever home with Canadians. (Sky Walker Tehawennihárhos: Charter)
Janine Brodie: Brilliant! A young Mohawk’s journey to find his voice amid colliding cultures, with a memorable ensemble of heroes and villains, and the certain allure of a plucky Scotchwoman. You’ll love this saga. (Sky Walker Tehawennihárhos)
Elly Buck: Being born in this particular part of the country, I thought I knew much of our local history. But Minsos’ first two books take me back to a time and place I find fascinating. The writer somehow lets you live and breathe the events of that time in a perfect blend of historical facts and fictional characters. You find yourself wrapped up in the complex lives of those characters. You feel frustrations come manifest in the racial tensions, political intrigues, hopes of youth, and you see the amazing blending of the cultures, which truly shapes our country.
Although the second book builds beautifully on the first, the books also stand alone. The style of Vinegar Hill is rich in detail, yet humorous and witty. I love the characters, who seem real to me. Intricate details of their everyday lives make them come alive. Details put me in their midst. I am there. Right in their world.
I find the speakers explode off of the page. Two of the things I love the most about the book are the wry sense of humour, which comes out in the most unexpected places, and the loveable characters. I’m not sure whether Jennet Ferguson is everywoman, but she certainly speaks to me. Brave, lonely, obedient, gutsy.
And quite frankly not very long ago women were deemed to be the “property of.” Less than two generations ago, women had very little clout, and today’s readers do need to hear our history. Yes, this story is one for the Jennets of today, and most especially for the Nellahs and Brides.
As always, the history of this region hits home for me, but now I think I see more clearly how the events of the bygone era in Canada West predict Ontario’s future for immigrants and their relationship with First Nations – both the good news and the bad news. Looking forward to the further adventures of Squire Davis. (Sky Walker Tehawennihárhos: the Battle of Vinegar Hill)
Ken Davis: Minsos is a sophisticated, mature writer with a great sense of humour and the ability to keep the plot twisting and turning in a manner that keeps the tale fresh right to the last page. (Sky Walker Tehawennihárhos: the Battle of Vinegar Hill)
Mel Hurtig: No one understands culture like Minsos. A great yarn. Entertaining. Absorbing. Wicked. (Sky Walker Tehawennihárhos)
Muriel Kuchison: Minsos has written a most thoughtful, well-researched, descriptive, entertaining, pre-Confederation Canadian historical novel. In Charter, the third book in her Mohawk trilogy, she explores the struggle between the Indigenous peoples and the land-seeking settlers.
She documents and contrasts the competing interests of the affluent, and often corrupt lives of those who are selling the land and governing it (and the strict, religious, frugal lives and dreams of the early settlers), with the lives of the Indigenous peoples, and their concept of land use and sovereignty. The struggle brings together charlatans and misfits.
Ruthless men and women, who seek power and who have gained power, battle outsiders who have integrity. Falling between the cracks of good and evil are those settlers who move freely from one end of the moral gray area to the other. Indigenous have their own heroes and villains and their own sense of, and rules for, justice.
Embedded in the prose is a colorful description of the characters and their immediate and extended relationships as well as their physical surroundings as they exist within the context of the struggles and hardships, which are pervasive in their lives.
Threading its way throughout is a tempestuous, touching, tender and often star-crossed love story between Squire Tehawennihárhos Davis, an Indigenous man, and Jennet Ferguson, the product of a strict Scotch Presbyterian upbringing. Minsos’ use of terse, clean prose, subtle humour, individual character traits and vivid, colourful descriptions of places and events contributes to the pleasure of reading this novel. Herein, there are many lessons to be learned by history buffs as well as insights to be savoured and pondered by all. A must read! (Sky Walker Tehawennihárhos: Charter)
Ian MacLaren: The last fifty pages will wow any reader. The whore on the hill doesn’t tire somehow, and I adored the tipped-over outhouse. Minsos handles violence very well, and it is not gratuitous; that is, retributive justice must have featured as prominently in British North America as it famously did in the US of A, all disclaimers about upright Upper Canada notwithstanding.
Speaking of the latter, the free trade plot in human lives is rivetting, and the prospect of Filkin’s fate delicious. I also like the qualities of Squire that the tree rescue places on view. (Sky Walker Tehawennihárhos: the Battle of Vinegar Hill)
Mark Smith: The mixing of Aboriginal and European peoples in southern Ontario, the difference between being a loyalist and an ally, the Grand River Navigation Company swindle, the urge for schooling – Sky Walker-Tehawennihárhos throws so much light on what otherwise might seem to be an inexplicable flare-up in Caledonia.
There’s historical fiction that removes the past to some safe and distant place, and there’s historical fiction that shows us how the past isn’t past at all and I’d say what [Minsos does] is the latter sort. (Sky Walker Tehawennihárhos: the Battle of Vinegar Hill)
For non-fiction historical background, see Readings
Heartfelt thanks to “Anonymous” at Friesen Books, Faye Boer at Lone Pine Publishing, Lillian Brown at Clarion Foreword Review, Lesley Clarke, Dianne Gillespie, Anita Jenkins, Laraine Orthlieb, Kathy Van Denderen, Gary Whyte, Sally Williams and the Women Review. Thanks for reading and commenting: Jane Ainslie, Janine Brodie, Elly Buck, Ken Davis, Mel Hurtig, Muriel Kuchison, Ian MacLaren, and Mark Smith.
Featured image: Chuck Jones creator