Theresa Scott's Northern Nights is based on a historical incident that involved the murder of a young Indian chief by white men. Despite evidence of careful research into the lives of the people and cultures portrayed, the fictional heroine's actions are just not believable.
Elizabeth Powell is staying at her aunt and uncle’s farm in Washington Territory. Her aunt and uncle are away when a friend of her uncle's, James Burt, arrives looking for him. Elizabeth does not like Burt because he is abrupt and rude. While they are talking, two canoes of Indians land on the shore and take both of them captive.
Fights With Wealth, or Isaac Thompson as he is known to white men, is an Haida Chief. He and his men are traveling with men from the Tsimshian tribe. Isaac's uncle is a chief of the Tsimshian and asked Isaac to join in the quest to find James Burt and John Butler, Elizabeth's uncle, the two men who murdered the young Indian chief, his nephew. The Haida and Tsimshian tribes have an uneasy relationship. Isaac is not treated well by the Tsimshians because his mother, a Tsimshian had been a slave to his father before he fell
in love with her and paid the tributes necessary to remove her from slavery and marry her. Isaac goes on the quest to try and gain respect from his Uncle's tribe.
During the grueling trip back to the Tsimshian village, Isaac protects Elizabeth from the unwanted attentions of a rival and they end up lovers. When they arrive at the village, Isaac vows to protect her from harm because he has discovered that she was not involved in the killing. His uncle, however, demands that she be executed in place of her evil uncle. Isaac takes her place and is scheduled to die a torturous death along with Burt.
Before the execution, Isaac makes his friends promise to deliver Elizabeth back to the fort and keep her out of harm’s way. Thinking he is dead, Elizabeth returns to the fort and soon discovers she is pregnant. Her aunt talks her into marrying an old friend so that she will not be shamed as an unwed mother. But her heart is still broken about Isaac.
From the very beginning, Elizabeth's actions did not ring true. She had just recently graduated from Miss Cowpert's Finishing School for Young Ladies in San Francisco, so she looks at each situation through the training she received. It seems hard to believe that an 1850's woman, on seeing two canoe-loads of Indians land on the shore of her uncle's farm, is more worried about how to serve them tea than being frightened. She tries to act very prim and proper at all times, but then very early on, she makes love with Isaac with little hesitation. Her reactions are so inconsistent that I could not connect with her. The author also resorts to a 'big misunderstanding' toward the end that seems to be only a devise to extend the length of the book.
Isaac is much more believable and the cultural information about the two tribes and how they interact was quite interesting. I would have liked an afterward that more clearly explained which parts of the story and which characters were real and which were fictional. Even if that information had been included, I still could not recommend this book.
--B. Kathy Leitle