My copy of this book was provided by the publisher through Netgalley in exchange for my review.
I have always been fascinated by other cultures, and among the first that I sought out information on when I was in elementary school were the Native Americans. Growing up in America I was told the story of Pocahontas and John Smith numerous times in my life, but it wasn't until I was an adult that I found out that Pocahontas and John Smith were never in love, nor were they ever lovers. There is so much mythology and fairy tale attached to their story, that it is a true find to come across a book that tells a more likely, and to my mind likable, story of the two. Tidewater: A Novel of Pocahontas and the Jamestown Colony by Libbie Hawker (Lake Union Publishing $10.95 in Paperback) is just such a book. When I saw it being offered for review, I knew I had to read it, whether I was awarded the ARC or not.
The first thing that I noticed was that the book begins with the arrival of John Smith and his cohorts from the Virginia Company in America and their decision of where to set up the colony of Jamestown. In fact, although Pocahontas definitely plays a role in the first third of the book, the author mainly focuses on the developing relationship between the colonists at Jamestown and the Powhatan Indians. Pocahontas' father Powhatan, her uncle Opechanacanough, John Smith, and various other colonists are the main characters for this part of the story. Score one for both the book and the author. As the story progressed, I was very impressed with the way that the author peppered the story with the actual names and customs of the Powhatan Indians. In addition, she was meticulous in her descriptions of the colonists and the actual roles that each of them played, reminding us that John Smith was not the "leader" or president of the Jamestown colony at the time that he met Pocahontas.
As the story unfolds, we get to the part where Pocahontas saves John Smith from death and the resulting development of their relationship. At this point in the book, Pocahontas takes on a more central role, as she most likely did in real life. Although the book at this point details her relationship with John Smith and, in the last third, her life in the colony, conversion to Christianity, marriage to John Rolfe, and eventual trip to England, the author does a great job of continuing to let us know what is happening with the other characters, most notably, John Smith, Powhatan, and his brother. Through all of this, we get an excellent picture of Pocahontas, her true role in the Jamestown story, and her eventual life as a Christian and Englishwoman.
The one thing that struck me throughout this book, and perhaps my favorite thing about it, was the amount of detail and realism that the author included in this book. It was apparent from the beginning that she had done a lot of research, not only on Pocahontas her self, but on the Powhatan Indians in general along with the actual inhabitants of the Jamestown colony. I was definitely pleased, although not really surprised, when I came to the end of the book and found listed there the titles of several non-fiction books that the author used to research and develop her story. I definitely intend to check a few of them out.
I ended up giving this book 5 out of 5 stars and am including it on my highly recommended list. It is a true gem and I will am thankful to Libbie Hawker for this more realistic glimpse of this interesting woman who was caught up in history. I still love my fairy tale stories of princesses, but this book is so rich with great characters and interesting details that it is a must read for anyone interested in this time period. It is my first book by this author, but it will not be my last!