Sixteen-year-old Dianne Chadwick works in the family store in New Madrid, Missouri. Due to poor judgment on her part, her father must defend her and loses his life. Much of the country is torn by the Civil War and her brothers likely will be recruited to fight soon. She hatches a scheme to move the family to the Idaho Territory, then convinces her mother that the family’s best hope lies in heading west to join their uncle. Soon, they uproot and join a wagon train. Though she doesn’t express her concerns aloud, Diane often doubts the wisdom of her plan, wondering how they’ll survive out West.
Cole Selby works as the right-hand man to the wagon master. Though knowledgeable and helpful, he remains aloof, preoccupied and hardhearted. He often seems critical of Diane’s inexperienced mistakes. She makes plenty of errors in the unforgiving harshness of trail life and Cole constantly rescues her. The two clash frequently. Although his past plagues him, Cole proves a capable, dependable leader despite his obvious unhappiness.
Diane’s family endures the daily monotony and repetitive hard work. The journey’s sameness is interrupted only by illness, tragedy, death and depression that beset them. Unfortunately, their miseries don’t end when they arrive in Virginia City. Their uncle can’t be found and Diane’s mother weakens. But, Diane realizes that Cole’s past means he understands her pain and sorrow. And so does God—the provider of comfort when seasons of hardship strike.
Peterson’s novel offers lush historical detail in the first of the Heirs of Montana series. Her male characters are flawed humans with redeeming qualities. The females aren’t as likeable; however, devoted Peterson fans will enjoy the book. Other readers will need to push past the slow start to encounter the richer parts of the tale.