In 1850, as the United States was relentlessly expanding westward and welcoming California into the Union, much of western Canada was still terra incognita, a wild land that was only beginning to be settled and had previously resisted European colonization. As English settlers began to migrate to the land now known as British Columbia, they heard stories of Spanish adventurers lost at sea while carrying gold and looking for the fabled the Northwest Passage. Ian Kent’s WESTCOAST LEGACY, originally published in 2004, is an entertaining tale that successfully weaves both history and legend.
Kent presents an unlikely heroine, Margaret Manson, who leaves England with her two sons to join her husband, a shipwright, at Fort Victoria on Vancouver Island (the present-day British Columbian capital of Victoria) determined to make a better life for her family. Her adventures begin almost as soon as she leaves, enduring a long voyage from London to Fort Victoria with numerous storms and beginning a torrid affair with Mark Holland, the ship’s captain. By the time she arrives at Fort Victoria, Margaret has learned that her husband, who was carrying all of their money, was washed overboard and lost not far from land, and all she has is her husband’s shipwright’s tools. Later, a friendly native named Kane arrives at the settlement, bearing Margaret’s husband’s jacket; she learns that her husband made it to shore but died in the care of the natives, leaving her the money in the coat . . . and a journal.
From there, WESTCOAST LEGACY seamlessly chronicles Margaret’s resilience and her will to survive and prosper, as she sets out to succeed in the colony as a storekeeper while describing the voyages Captain Holland, who becomes her second husband, makes to the Orient on his brigantine ship the Shanghai Lady to barter for goods for Margaret’s store. The result is a narrative that combines the grit and realism of a Willa Cather novel of pioneer life with the exotic romance of a story from James Clavell’s Asian Saga books. There are many adventurous close-call moments, such as when Captain Holland encounters an ex-lover in China who threatens revenge when she learns of his marriage to Margaret, and an earthquake on Vancouver Island that causes a fire that damages Margret’s store, but the already suspenseful tale becomes even more adventurous when Margaret decides to go on an expedition for gold. It seems her husband’s journal tells of discovery of gold left behind by Spanish soldiers along Vancouver Island’s rugged shores. She sets off with Kane, her son, and an unscrupulous prospector who has come to Fort Victoria. Things go fine until they encounter other natives . . . and what happens next is more than Margaret – or the reader – ever bargained for.
WESTCOAST LEGACY is a page-turner of a story with a keen sense of history that takes familiar storylines and turns them into a fresh, thrilling narrative.
~Steven Maginnis for IndieReader