The Warrior's Path.
Man, is there a lot going on in this little book.
As we rejoin the Sackett family, its first American-born generation has reached adulthood and started getting married. Founding patriarch Barnabas, he of the antique coin find in the English Fens of Cambridgeshire who started it all, is now dead, cut down in his late prime in an honorable fight with some Seneca warriors. Wife Abigail, she of the wild seafaring life until Barnabas convinced her to go pioneering with him, has taken their son Brian (who would be a law student) and daughter Noelle back to England to get some civilizin', but their other sons, Yance and Kin-Ring*, ah, that's who we're following for this here novel (they had another son, Jubal, but we'll get his story in some other book. I have a feeling he's more of a full-on Grizzly Adams type than his brothers, who just refer to him from time to time as a wanderer).
The Sacketts and their friends have established a nice little mini-colony in the Carolinas, befriended some natives, be-foed others, and are enjoying their lives of hunting and fishing and farming. Yance has married a nice young lady from the Plymouth colony up north, somewhat against those Puritans' wishes, and its through the circumstances of his wedding that the story gets started -- though the story is really Kin-Ring's.
Word comes via a dying native that Yance's 12-year-old sister-in-law, Carrie, and another woman, Diana Macklin, have been kidnapped by some bad natives and Yance's in-laws aren't satisfied with their community's half-hearted efforts to get the girls back. Diana is a bit of a wild one, it seems -- whip-smart, independent, outdoorsy, knowledgeable about herbs and animals, literate, skeptical, all those things good Puritan girls aren't -- and no one seems too concerned at her loss. As for the little girl, ah, well, she shouldn't have been hanging out with Diana anyway.
Well, of course our Sackett boys spring into action. And quickly determine that 1. Diana and Carrie are not the first young ladies to disappear from their settlement, 2. The other disappeared girls have also been uppity types like Diana is and Carrie is likely to grow up to be and 3. It wasn't actually Indians what took 'em.
I love that L'Amour loves strong female characters almost as much as he loves subtly skewering the people who don't appreciate them. His princesses aren't entirely self-rescuing, but they come awfully close, really just needing to borrow masculine brawn on occasion to make their brainy schemes go (and satisfy some confining social norms). Such is Diana, who has already taken her fate into her own hands by the time the Sacketts locate her, and especially Adele, whom Kin-Ring meets in Jamaica (see, I said there's a lot going on in this little novel) as he tracks down the white slavers who are the real culprits in these abductions -- slavers who are not only profiting from the trade in pretty white girls, but are also doing their hometowns a favor by getting rid of uppity women that can't quite successfully be persecuted as witches. At least not yet.** Diana and Adele are never quite fleshed out as whole characters, and are definitely seen wholly through male eyes, but these male eyes appreciate the ladies for more than just their looks and their cooking and their ability to make more male with eyes. Sackett men want brainy, educated, can-do women, and if they're pretty, that's just a bonus.
So of the Sackett novels I've read so far, this one is my favorite, but I suspect they'll keep getting better. I'm pretty sure L'Amour's small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri would be real small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri.
Really, the only flaw here is some weird narrative switcheroos that L'amour made earlier in the novel. About 90% of the story is told in the first person with Kin-Ring as narrator, but a few scenes from which he is absent are told from Diana's third person perspective, which is fine if a bit sloppy. When they first meet up, though, L'Amour inexplicably switches from one narration to the other in the middle of a scene, just for a few paragraphs, which is jarring and came across as downright amateurish. Since this book dates back to the days when major publishing houses generally made an effort at editing, it's all the more surprising to encounter here. But hey, even the greats screw up sometimes.
And L'Amour is great.
*I do not understand the naming of this character at all. Anyone who knows WTS this guy's name is supposed to refer to, enlighten me, please!
**This story takes place a little while before the Great Witch Craze really caught on in North America.