Over the weekend I read a historical that I got sucked into and couldn’t put down. Flight of the Sparrow is by Amy Belding Brown and I give it four stars out of five.
Massachusetts Bay Colony, 1676. Even before Mary Rowlandson was captured by Indians on a winter day of violence and terror, she sometimes found herself in conflict with her rigid Puritan community. Now, her home destroyed, her children lost to her, she has been sold into the service of a powerful woman tribal leader, made a pawn in the ongoing bloody struggle between English settlers and native people. Battling cold, hunger, and exhaustion, Mary witnesses harrowing brutality but also unexpected kindness. To her confused surprise, she is drawn to her captors’ open and straightforward way of life, a feeling further complicated by her attraction to a generous, protective English-speaking native known as James Printer. All her life, Mary has been taught to fear God, submit to her husband, and abhor Indians. Now, having lived on the other side of the forest, she begins to question the edicts that have guided her, torn between the life she knew and the wisdom the natives have shown her.
Based on the compelling true narrative of Mary Rowlandson, Flight of the Sparrow is an evocative tale that transports the reader to a little-known time in early America and explores the real meanings of freedom, faith, and acceptance.
The book had a bit of a slow start for me because I was eager to get to Mary’s captivity, but those first few chapters really helped show us pre-captive Mary which is very important because of how her character evolves during and after her captivity. The book also gives us a peek into Puritan life and life for English captives taken by Native Americans. I couldn’t put this book down and read it in two settings over the weekend. I needed to know what happened next and how the story ended. The clash of English and Native society fascinated me as did Mary’s struggle when she felt torn between the two.
However I wouldn’t give this book five stars. An issue I see often in historical fiction is too-modern leads and this book suffered from that issue. While this is inspired by Mary’s ordeal, fictional Mary is much more sympathetic to the Native plight than the real Mary was. I understand why the author would take this stance with her since we see the situation through a modern perspective, but to me it didn’t fit Mary’s character. I didn’t see why she’d want to align with the side that killed her sister, nephews, led to her daughter’s death, and caused her to spend months starving while in captivity. The author takes the stance of Native life being more freeing than Puritan life and by the time Mary returns to English society most of the English characters were rude and insufferable. By the end it felt like Mary valued the freedom of Native women’s lives over the lives of the friends and family she lost.
Even Mary’s stance on equality and slavery felt a little too modern. I can understand her refusing to participate in slavery after being made a slave herself, but I found it unusual after her release how she seemed to have no desire for revenge over the friends, family, and house she lost when the Natives Americans attacked and took her captive. However, if Mary hadn’t been made so modern then readers may not have connected with her so well. The real Mary likely harbored racist thoughts and beliefs that would disgust readers.
Despite these issues with Mary being too modern, the story was still fascinating and one I’d recommend.