Eoin Dempsey Starts the Game of Human Relations
The concepts of love and marriage have undergone many changes as our civilization evolved, with us constantly modifying our interpretations of them and consequently creating new rules while discarding old ones. While in most societies today people have the good fortune of being able to choose their partners with a great degree of freedom, only a hundred years ago marriage still had an extremely strong utilitarian component to it. In some cases, it thrust people deep into lives they never wanted for themselves, as is the case with our heroine in Eoin Dempsey’s Toward the Midnight Sun.
After his previous novel took us to the Second World War, Dempsey is now transporting us to 1897, the height of the Klondike Gold Rush. The author introduces us to Anna Denton, a prospector travelling to the Yukon, but with some slightly different goals than her fellow peers. Her family has promised her hand in marriage to Henry Bradwell, the power-hungry King of the Klondike. With the family nearing financial ruin, Anna grit her teeth and set out to do what she had to for the sake of her loved ones.
The journey towards the man in question proves to be nothing short of treacherous, with a lawless Alaskan town depriving Anna of her chaperones as they run afoul of local criminals. A chance encounter with her childhood friends, Will and Silas, leaves her with the help she needs to finally reach her destination.
However, despite the initial warm welcome, the reality of the long and harsh winter begins to set in, and tensions start to rise in Henry’s household. Torn between her duty to her family and her love for Will, Anna and her companions are thrust into the deadliest and most dangerous of games, one where Man stands as the ultimate evil.
The Romance of the Yukon in Toward the Midnight Sun
While this novel is indeed classified as a work of historical fiction, I feel more than anything, I have to stress the fiction part. The backdrop might be real and based on true historical events, but the characters and their story feels like its set in its own world apart.
Yes, there are definitely some descriptions and references to scratch the itch us history geeks sometimes have, but they were far from being the main focus of it all… this particular honour goes to the love story.
Now, those of you who are familiar with my reviews know I don’t exactly gravitate towards the romantic sub-genre unless something really attracts my attention about the work in particular. For this one, it was the setting of the Alaskan wilderness and the classic set-up where characters who would like to kill each other are trapped in the same locale.
While the love story does indeed colour everything which happens in one way or another, I was glad to see Dempsey managed to ensure it never felt overpowering in places where it could have been detrimental.
It is genuinely interesting to see Anna try and navigate a situation with seemingly no outs nor wins, to see her struggle with her emotions and the schism between her desire for happiness and her duty towards her family. It is inspiring to see her slowly grow as the story progresses, finding the strength she lacked before to at least attempt to conquer her fears, for better or worse.
My only gripe was the main source of opposition to Anna’s quest for true love, Henry Bradwell. For someone dubbed the King of the Klondike, he did come across as somewhat predictable in his machinations, which probably made him seem less threatening than the author intended. In the end though, it’s just a minor inconvenience which doesn’t noticeably hurt the story.
The Frozen Adventure
With the main topic of discussion in this book out of the way, we can turn our attention to the extensive plot which takes us travelling mainly through the Yukon, but not before we are treated to a hundred or so pages where we travel with Anna from Seattle to Dawson city.
Her initial journey to her destination is already fraught with a bit of surprise and peril, as she meets old acquaintances and runs afoul of the types of dangers an inexperienced traveler might expect. In this particular segment of the book, I found the author did splendid work with his descriptive talents and imbued his scenes with many fascinating details.
Following this part, the plot does feel like it slows down to a certain extent, which only makes sense considering Anna’s initial journey comes to an end and she begins to settle with her husband-to-be. Nevertheless, I did feel there was a bit too much superfluous dialogue in the middle part of the book, and it could have likely been cut out without losing much. On the plus side, it’s fairly easily identifiable and can be skimmed through without much trouble.
Thankfully, as we enter the latter parts of the story the plot begins to pick up again as a much-needed sense of danger creeps its way back onto the stage. Despite being predictable at times, Henry Bradwell is a truly insidious person and does make for the kind of villain we can easily hate without much second thought. Even though the nature of this book leaves us more or less certain of his ultimate fate and how his story with Anna will be resolved, I enjoyed the journey towards it nevertheless.
The Final Verdict
Toward the Midnight Sun by Eoin Dempsey is, despite its few faults and slow middle, still very much a good historical romance novel taking place in a relatively unusual setting. The combination of love, adventure and danger works fairly well throughout, and even though the novel isn’t exactly groundbreaking, I say it’s worth checking out for fans of the genre.
Eoin Dempsey is an Irish writer who began his writing career after moving to the United States and seeing his day job go under alongside the Lehman brothers. After penning Finding Rebecca , he decided to pursue his literary career and has written some highly-acclaimed books to follow, including The Bogside Boys and White Rose, Black Forest.