A novel that spends several years following Scots-Irish immigrants moving to the mountains of North Carolina and Virginia the late 1770s and early 1780s. This novel follows the would-be “land breakers” whose job it is to not only survive off the land, but also to transform it. For those who live in or around the Appalachian mountains this land is pretty familiar in general. The mountains themselves tend to be wooded, with rocky ridgelines and peaks, some gaps and passes, but sometimes those don’t appear for hundred of miles. Now, the land making up the foothills ranges from forests to farmland, but someone had to clear those farms at some point. If you’ve ever read William Cronon’s wonderful book Changes in the Land, you know the history of Puritan New England’s efforts to radically shift the landscape they found, and the Southern versions of this are similar. The novel itself is a kind of generational novel, with a lot of energy put into the kinds of life our characters are living, the uncomfortable connections and tensions that arise between the disparate figures employed in this kind of life. It’s a very fascinating book that reminds us that the frontier in America wasn’t necessarily “wild” in the way we think of it, and it definitely wasn’t always that far “west” either. I suppose I should mention for clarity that this is a fictionalized accounting of this story. It’s probably fairly accurate or true to life, but not based on specific true figures. It’s a lot like the Mary Lee Settle books too in this way.