The Wilderness Way
by Anne Madden
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Pub Date 07 Dec 2023 | Archive Date 02 Jan 2024
HarperCollins UK, One More Chapter, One More Chapter
1861, Donegal, Ireland
Ten years ago Declan Conaghan’s father died in the Great Famine, and since then, Declan has kept his promise to keep his family out of the workhouse. But all that is threatened with the arrival of new landlord, John Adair. Adair is quick to cause trouble and fear among his tenants. When he turns them off his land, Declan has no option but to break his promise…
Declan is in despair until he receives a letter from America offering him the chance of a new life and salvation for his family. But it would mean signing up to the US Army and fighting for Lincoln. Despite knowing nothing of war, or US politics, Declan leaves behind all he knows.
Set against the wild landscapes of Ireland and the turbulent times of the American Civil War, this sweeping narrative takes us on an epic journey to understand the strength and endurance of the human spirit.
Praise for Anne Madden:
'The author seems to have put all her love into this book … this historical fiction story is exceptional' ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
‘A moving and fascinating historical fiction story that I could not put down!’ ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
'This has to be another of my 'best reads' for 2023’ ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
‘A gripping, realistic tale. Highly recommend.’ ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
‘I’ve been waiting for a book like this’ ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
'A solid book club pick!’ ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Available on NetGalley
Average rating from 24 members
The Wilderness Way by Anne Madden is such a moving and fascinating historical fiction story that I could not put down! I became so caught up in the events in Ireland and United States, I lost track of time. It is magnificently written with a stunning setting, great dialogue, fully developed characters and an intriguing plot. We get two viewpoints from opposite sides: the tenant- soldier Declan Conaghan and landlord - owner John Adair. We get to see the victim and ruler, trapped in poverty and wealth. Both caught in the clutches of revenge. This is a strong theme that runs like a hungry fire through the story line fuelling emotions, intentions and actions. Each party feels they have been wronged.
The Wilderness Way is ‘mostly’ based on a true story as the author states. It inspired me to look up details and I could see how well researched and accurate it was. I can also see why the author wanted to relay these traumatic events in fictional form. The tenant evictions in Derryveagh, Ireland and the Civil War in United States happened in the same month of 1861 and provides a deep well to draw from for a story that definitely is worth telling. It provides the perfect opportunity for the imagination to fill in the gaps.
In the novel and real life, John Adair is/was the landlord of Glenveagh. This breathtaking landscape is now a National Park. I visited this whole area a number of years ago when I visited Donegal. So, I can relate to the beauty conveyed in the author’s descriptions. And then there is the castle designed by Adair’s cousin Townsend Trench (which you can also visit today).
I think Ms Madden has done a fine job fleshing out what might have happened during this tumultuous era of Ireland and United States. It was heartbreaking to see more injustice dished out on the Irish who had already experienced the horrors of the Great Famine. Yet here, ten years later, war erupts again when a new landlord moves into the area and stirs up the locals with his plans for the region. Distrust, accusations and revolt begins. Then a death of the landowner’s land steward occurs. He’s been murdered. Punishment is doled out on the entire neighbourhood when no one comes forward with the name of the killer. That person is never identified. Because Adair’s land steward is murdered, all tenants are removed from the land.
Declan Conaghan, the protagonist, is a caring son. After his father dies, he vows to look after his mother, sister and brother. It has been ten years since the Great Famine but the experience is still very fresh in everyone’s minds. What follows seems like a reoccurrence of similar events, such as loss of homes and forced emigration or living in the dreaded workhouse. Even though Declan’s family have faithfully paid rent, they are pushed out with all the rest. Homeless, they have no choice but head to the meagre shelter.
Full of despair and anger, Declan receives a letter from his uncle overseas to join him in fighting for Lincoln in the US army. With the promise of being paid, he accepts the offer and along with his brother heads to America. He plans to send funds back to his sister and mother in hopes they can leave the workhouse. As the story goes, he does find his uncle, signs up and the long journey begins. Over the next few years (1861-1865), the horrible civil war rages on. There are heavy losses and much heartbreak. But it is here where he meets Cornelia, daughter of the great general who is kind and understanding towards him and his brother. She never forgets him and his courage in helping her husband and father in the war. And this later becomes a key part of his own redemption back in Ireland, when she ends up there in a surprising union. I really liked her character. She had such passion for helping those less fortunate. She is a gentle shining light in the darkness that follows. She is a strong figure, a real woman of history, who comes to life in such a brilliant and warm way on the pages of this story. She is the bridge between two worlds: the rich and poor, using her privileges for good and bringing healing to broken families.
My heart ached and broke over and over while reading this novel as it is based on many true events and people. There is plenty of danger, death, prejudice, mystery and destruction but there is also strength, endurance, hope and healing at the end. And the importance of family is at the centre of it all.
I did not want The Wilderness Way to end and was quite surprised when I turned a page and there wasn’t another chapter. I felt there was so much more to tell—even though the ending brought some resolutions. And to my delight, the author states in her notes, it is only the first chapter in the history of Glenveagh Castle. I, for one, hope there is a sequel! In the meantime, I highly recommend reading this exceptional novel. It reminds us of the sacrifices many have made in the past. But how they find ways to move forward, rising from the ashes. For out of death springs life. A child is born. A new generation comes. And for the characters of The Wilderness Way, the protagonist must find peace amidst his cry for vengeance. And the antagonist must learn kindness guided by the hand of a lady whose heart shines with goodness. This is a great, great story I am so glad I read. 5 Brilliant Stars ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Many thanks to One More Chapter and Netgalley for my review copy.