Jack Cavendish needs to get to his station at Fort Charlotte, a fur-trading outpost in Grand Portage, Upper Canada. The fort is only accessible by canoe, and there’s just one man willing to take him on the perilous, thousand-mile journey from Montreal this late in the summer. Young Christian Smith, the son of an Ojibwe mother and absent British father, needs the money to strike out on his own, so he agrees to take Jack deep into the wild.
As they travel endless lakes and rivers, at times having to carry the canoe over land, the arduous expedition takes its toll. Yet the attraction between Jack and Christian, two men from vastly different worlds, grows ever stronger. Locked in a battle against the wilderness and elements, how long can they fight their desire for each other?
Review by Leslie H. Nicoll
This is a story that has been told a million times before (think of The African Queen) but it is a trope that is obviously effective and popular and once again, works well in this short novella.
The story opens in the summer of 1793. Jack Cavendish had been stationed in India, working for the East Indian Trading Company. He’s ready for a change and has come to Canada to take a new job at Fort Charlotte. Unfortunately, his journey from England was delayed by bad weather and he is a month late in arriving in Montreal, which means that all the voyageurs have already left for the far north. William Grant suggests that he wait until the spring but Jack doesn’t want to sit around for the better part of a year, twiddling his thumbs. Reluctantly, Grant hires Christian Smith to make the journey with Jack, telling him it will be long and dangerous. Jack thinks Grant is exaggerating, of course. He just wants to get to the fort.
When Christian arrives early the next morning, Jack is ready to go, complete with two trunks and all his books. Christian looks at him like he is daft and hands him a backpack. The only personal possession he is allowed to bring are a few tins of spices from India.
Off they go. Jack is overbearing and supercilious, believing he knows everything, even though he’s never been in the north woods of Canada—or the north woods of anywhere, for that matter. Of course, after just a few hours of paddling, he begins to realize what he has gotten himself into. It’s not long before he comes to respect Christian’s skills and abilities, feelings that turn into lust and eventually love.
Because they got off on the wrong foot, Christian doesn’t want to have anything to do with Jack, beyond providing the required transportation to Fort Charlotte. Still, as the days turn into weeks and they only have themselves for companionship, his feelings begin to change, too.
Their first sexual encounter is very rough and almost abusive—it reminded me of the first night in the tent scene in the movie Brokeback Mountain, to be honest. Putting it in that context made it realistic, although it was difficult to read. For quite a while afterwards, they don’t talk about what transpired. But gradually, they do acknowledge what is going on between them.
The protagonists are both interesting characters. Jack, at 27, has long known he prefers men, but he is a virgin. Christian is just 20, but more experienced and understanding, partly because of growing up in the Ojibwe culture, which has a more tolerant attitude towards homosexuality than the English do. Jack and Christian use this information as a way to bridge the differences between them; that’s the point when they truly fall in love.
The story is nicely told and the writing evokes the majesty of the Canadian north, with its lakes, rivers, and forests. There is a fair amount of excitement, especially near the end, which resulted in a satisfying and realistic conclusion.
This book is one of a series put out by Torquere called “Spice It Up” wherein each story features a different spice—in this book it is turmeric (which is misspelled on the cover, but correctly spelled in the book). The spice is used two or three times in the story in a very realistic way, which was a nice little twist. As far as I can tell, this is the only “Spice It Up” story that is historical.
Overall, I enjoyed this short novella that was realistic to the time, place, and characters. The setting was a little bit different and the story, while familiar, was well told. Recommended.