I am reviewing the first two of the books of this series. This whole collection of novels involve the Berrybender Clan, a British “aristocratic” family coming to America in the 1830s for an extended adventure and hunting trip. The tone of the first book is cartoonish and a little goofy throughout. It changes for the second novel, but I will get to that later.
The first novel Sin Killer focuses primarily on the oldest daughter, Tasmin, a headstrong and talkative woman, who in an act of defiance and individualism marries a roughneck American who goes by the moniker Sin Killer. This man, Daniel Snow, is a backwoodsman who has multiple Ute wives who Tasmin doesn’t really know much about. They marry, hook up repeatedly, and Tasmin gets pregnant. Also, she’s kind of on the run from her family, not so much in a sense of being in danger or even that much in defiance, but in the sense of being off the farm. The novel also explores a few of the other children in the Berrybender clan, deal with the death of the matriarch (kind of), and then as they kind of settle into American life.
The second novel continues pretty much where the last novel left off. The tone does shift…it never quite gets serious, but it does become more serious, or closer to serious than the first one. This change happens for a few reasons. For one, the sense of adventure doesn’t disappear necessarily, but it does seep down with gravity to become a more intense experience. Mostly this is because of the pregnancy of Tasmin, alongside the pregnancy of other women in and connected with the clan. As it becomes more and more apparent that this trip will have more trophies and longterm consequences than furs, beaver skins, and stories, the novel sort of picks up the cue and becomes more serious than it was. There’s a moment in the second novel where it’s clear that the backwoodsman Sin Killer, for all his tromping through the woods, has no real sense of being a man, in the more societal sense. He can hunt and shoot and have sex, but he panics at the sight of his own child, and obviously cannot reckon with the level of responsibility needed.
Also, the novel has a strange open kind of sexuality. Something there is in the American landscape that leads everyone to be in a casual sexual contact with every one else. It’s not sexual violence luckily, but it is a kind of sexual laxity that might very well be anachronistic but still works in the novel show a kind of breakdown in the societal expectations of this British noble family. There’s a real sense of unsettledness to their whole experience. Everything feels like a temporary camp, living in and out of a boat, and on a makeshift landing. The people they encounter throughout are also nomadic in their ways, so it makes sense that a lot of the values they brought with them also become nomadic and more fluid.