Across A Thousand Miles
by Nadia Nichols
(Harl. Super. #1043, $4.99, G) ISBN 0-373-71043-7
****
Dogsledding. Not exactly what one thinks of when you think romance, is it? Nadia Nichols has taken this unusual subject and written Across A Thousand Miles, a suspenseful and intriguing look at the North, but a somewhat low-key romance.

The background is the Yukon Quest dogsled race that starts in the Yukon Territory and ends at Fairbanks, Alaska. This challenging, harrowing and somewhat amazing thousand-mile journey takes months to prepare and weeks to complete. The romance seems almost like the secondary plot rather than the primary.

Rebecca Reed, widow to one of the finest dog racers (known as a musher) in the Territory, has been living on her own in the wilderness setting of Whitehorse. She loves the huskies, and has been operating a part-time dog food business and part-time tourist business, (a little like a dude ranch for wanna-be mushers). She is lonely when she allows herself to think about it, but the harshness of her world keeps her focused on doing everything she needs to do to survive.

Bill “Mac” MacKenzie has come to the Yukon to help his brother, Brian and get away from some disappointments in his life. Mac was a navy fighter pilot involved in an international incident. He was the scapegoat, received a dishonorable discharge, was divorced by his wife and disowned by his father. But Mac is the resilient type. He sees the wilderness as a challenge. He comes to help, but ends up loving the dogs and vowing to race them himself.

Brian has a dog team, and Mac starts working with the dogs while Brian leaves the area to go back to school. He instantly takes to the sport and vows to enter some races. With a little suspension of belief, I could accept that Mac was allowed to enter this 1000-mile race. Okay, maybe more than “a little” suspension. Rebecca enters the race using her husband’s team and her knowledge of the trails.

Mac turns to Rebecca for dog food, and friendship. He is drawn to her and falls in love. Rebecca is a lot slower to give up the ghost of her dead husband. She too is drawn to Mac, but tries to hide it by acting surly and obstinate, followed by friendly and interested when her guard is down. These wavering behaviors reflect her inner struggle and seem right. Rebecca is convinced that Mac is too green to race the Quest, and Mac sets out to prove her wrong.

The relationship between Mac and Rebecca is one that builds slowly and is based on respect, integrity and friendship. If you are looking for hot and heavy, then go elsewhere. If you are looking for steady, companionable and long-lasting love, then you will find it here.

The few friends enhance the story and add to the sense of camaraderie in this frozen tundra. Sam and Ellin, Mr. Kanemoto and the other mushers are well written and bring interest to the story.

During the journey, Nichols intertwines life in this true wilderness with tales of the dog sledding life. I find it hard to believe that people still live so primitively, but it is believable as you read the story. Why anyone would want to live somewhere where only some households have hot showers, generators and phones is beyond this city girl’s understanding, but these folks seem to enjoy it. This lack of modern comforts at times make it difficult to remember the setting is contemporary, but this is only slightly distracting.

Rebecca and Mac are engaging characters. Their struggles personally and in the race are well written and provide enough suspense to keep the pages turning. The dogs are the real heroes and I find myself rooting for them in the race just like I would a racehorse or runner.

Across A Thousand Miles is a charming and interesting story, with an appealing couple and romance. Super Romance? …hardly. Good Romance? Sit back and enjoy.

--Shirley Lyons


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