Barkskins is the ambitious saga of two families, descended from two French emigrants to what was now New France, aka Canada, in the 17th century. The story follows the families into the present and travels to China, New Zealand, and Europe as the descendants seem to be very eager to explore new lands (and poor enough that sometimes they ave no other choices. At 700 pages, this is not for the faint of heart but the massive historical research behind the book and the variety of characters kept my interest. There is too much preaching about clearcutting to my taste when the story itself could tell the tale, and although I always love strong women the presence of so many in centuries where opportunities for women were limited is a little suspect — but still a massive achievement.
Liberty Street starts with a breathtaking chapter in which the heroine suddenly reveals her secret to her long-time partner. Disaster ensues and the rest of the book is a gigantic flashback of her life in a small Canadian town, to which she eventually returns. The flashback is a rather conventional story, although with interesting characters, especially the parents of the heroine, and it is sometimes pointlessly detailed, as with the story of a school acquaintance who was once thought dead, but the beginning is amazing.
Much better know for his Sherlock Holmes series, Arthur Conan Doyle also wrote historical novels, of which he was apparently very proud. The Refugees is one of them, and it ambitiously traces the picaresque adventures of a young American who travels to France, helps his Protestant friend survive many perils in procuring a priest for the secret marriage of Louis XV and Madame de Maintenon, and swiftly retreats to North America with friend, friend’s wife, and friend’s father upon the banishing of Huguenots from France. The French adventures are far-fetched — but what happens on the way back (iceberg, Indian attacks) seems utterly unbelievable. Add to that the totally helpless wife who cannot even see the fauna and flora of Canada without them being pointed out to her by her menfolk, and it becomes clear why Sherlock Holmes remains Conan Doyle’s legacy.