After 80+ western novels of range-wars and quick-draw gunslingers, iconic author Louis L'Amour decided to branch out and try a different type of frontier storytelling. Beginning in 1974, L'Amour authored “Sackett's Land”, the first of four novels that presented the origins of his critically-acclaimed 'Sacketts' family. The entire series encompasses 17 total works with 13 set in the mid to late 1800s. Using a time period of 1599-1620, L'Amour describes pioneer life in early America. “To the Far Blue Mountains”, published in 1976, is a direct continuation of the remarkable story told in “Sackett's Land,” a novel that set the bar at a nearly insurmountable height. Could this subsequent episode deliver the same stellar result?
In the novel's opening act, we once again find main character Barnabas Sackett in England. After defeating the Earl and his men in the prior novel, Barnabas is eager to set sail for America. However, the Queen still wants Barnabas in chains hoping that he will confess to discovering the Crown Jewels (an early mix-up in the first novel). In a crescendo of galloping horses, Barnabas avoids the law and eventually makes his way to Ireland before catching a ship to America.
In a wild chain of events, Barnabas is shanghaied at sea and taken back to a cold, brutal English prison called Newgate. Facing severe punishment and torture on the rack, Barnabas eventually escapes only to struggle reaching America. As the book's first half comes to a satisfying close, I could sense that the author's swashbuckling adventure writing had reached its finale.
The novel's second half is a portrait of survival in a hostile new land. Settling somewhere in what would eventually be central Virginia, Barnabas and his friends begin farming and trading goods with neighboring Indians. But the peace and serenity doesn't last long when Barnabas, and his family, are marked for death by numerous tribes. L'Amour's storytelling is at its absolute peak as wave after wave of Indians assault Barnabas. Will he ever make it to the “Far Blue Mountains”?
In a lot of ways, this book comes full circle. Not only does it continue the early adventures of Barnabas in both England and the New World, but it extends into his old age. The author utilizes this time period to begin branching off the family through Barnabas' sons Kin-Ring, Jubal, Yance and Brian. This isn't a surprise considering the next two installments focus on the mid-1600s, with the fourth and final chapter of this early saga simply titled “Jubal Sackett”.
As an exceptional storyteller, it's hard to imagine L'Amour improving beyond “Sackett's Land”. Yet, “To the Far Blue Mountains” is the gold standard. I've read this novel multiple times and still get goosebumps during the final pages. Adventure and western authors would be hard pressed to deliver another literary work this sweeping, compelling and satisfying. This epic presentation, from shore to shore, is a grand spectacle and an absolutely riveting experience for the reader. It simply doesn't get any better than this.
- The first Chantry character appears briefly in this book. His story would continue in 1978's “Fair Blows the Wind”. Later 'Chantry' books state that the Chantry and Sackett family fought side by side during the Revolutionary War.
- In the Bantam paperback edition of “Jubal Sackett”, L'Amour writes that his plans at the time were to explore the Sackett family history during America's Revolutionary and Civil War. Unfortunately, those novels never came to fruition as L'Amour would die afterwards in 1988.
- L'Amour would continue more adventure stories with his novel “The Walking Drum” (1984) set in 12th century Europe.
- There's some loose supernatural elements within “To the Far Blue Mountains”. In one scene Barnabas sees what he thinks is another city (or world) in the shoreline mist. L'Amour would experiment more with these elements in his science-fiction novel “Haunted Mesa” (1987).
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