Today, I am reviewing author J.A. Boulet’s first book in her Olason Chronicles series The Strongest Amongst Us, a historical love story.
An epic 1875 immigration saga, a love story and an epidemic. Would you survive?
Blurb: On a fateful day in October 1875, Nathan Olason steps foot onto the soil of a new foreign country called Canada. With natural sand beaches and breathtaking sunsets, it has been nicknamed paradise. Except it proves to be anything but.
With storm surges, emerging governments, racism and dwindling food supplies, Nathan and his family struggle to stay alive in this foreign wilderness. With the help of a beautiful Cree woman named Anwa, they learn to fish and hunt, surviving against all the odds.
Then just when they think they have prevailed, tragedy strikes an ominous blow, a smallpox epidemic that decimates villages, quarantines the town of Gimli, but most of all threatens to claim what he holds dear the most.
Be one of the last men standing. Follow Nath on a heroic journey of immigration, manhood, immense love, resilience and perseverance beyond anything we know.
When the author asked if I’d review her novel, I was all for it. I read a previous novel of hers, and really enjoyed how she captured the beauty and danger of Iceland, and then to be taken to Gimli, MB was an even bigger treat. Being from Northwestern Ontario, very close to the MB border, I am well aware of Lake Winnipeg and Gimli. It was also nice to see her feature a Swampy Cree heroine.
The Strongest Amongst Us is a love story and historical fiction, not a romance. The author takes the reader through the men of the Olason family arriving in Manitoba after enduring a horrible storm. Yes, weather is crucial in this novel because the elements play a big part in the survival of settlers, no matter the era, and starvation and freezing were quite common, especially in this area.
I enjoyed Nathaniel, the main protagonist who is only seventeen at the time. In the late nineteen century, seventeen was a different time than it is now. You were a man then, and the same for women, especially those out on the land and not living in the safety of cities, so I found Nathaniel’s actions perfect for his age, a boy who is struggling to become a man, and his survival is what tests him.
As for Anwa, the Swampy Cree young woman Nathaniel befriends, I really enjoyed seeing her featured. It’s rare when an Indigenous woman is the main protagonist in novels, so this was very refreshing, especially Swampy Cree. You don’t see this nation pop up, and this was a great change. Her reserve was also portrayed correctly with the reverend being a key part of it, and their church, because in the late 1800s, that was how it was. My own reserve was the same way, with the first church being established in the late 1800s. There were also day schools by then, so Anwa knowing English was quite believable.
I enjoyed the hardships they endured to build a community and a life together, and the realism of the prejudices they face, especially from the doctors, government, and even Nathaniel’s own father.
Their love story from Anwa teaching Nathaniel how to cope with the land, and even become one with it, was wonderfully written. I also enjoyed the small historical facts such as how to build a snow plow.
Being the author’s first novel, the writing did feel a bit choppy now and then, but it didn’t distract me from enjoying this wonderful historical piece of fiction. The author used her research well, so it didn’t overcome the plot and love story but was used as part of it to bring realism to the work. Well done.
I recommend readers give this a purchase. You won’t be disappointed. It’s a great start to a new series.
Have you read The Strongest Amongst Us? If so, do you agree with my review? If you haven’t read the book, would you be willing to now?