In 1810 twenty-one year old Ella Kenyon needs to keep her promise to her grandfather and finish designing the first flax mill to strip raw flax into the silky fiber used to weave linen. The invention will provide for her family and assure the entire town of Debroahville in Upstate New York steady employment. But can she trust the man who wants to help her file her patent? The path to Washington, DC is fraught with danger. Just when her dream seems within grasp Ella must make the ultimate decision between familial love and success and fame.
The Clever Mill Horse is historical fiction, a mystery, and a melodrama romance. Jodi Lew-Smith has done impeccable historical research into the places, times, and material culture of 1804-11. I was interested to follow Ella and her companions as they travel down the Susquehanna River to Wilkes Barre, into the Pocono Mountains, down the Delaware River to Camden, to the New Jersey Pine Barrens, to Glassboro, into Philadelphia, and finally to Washington City where President Madison was in office and the Superintendent of Patents Latrobe was designing the Capital building. Having lived in and around Philadelphia these are all familiar places to me.
The story is full of action, suspense, and horrible events. The early part of the novel reads like a book for younger readers, but things turn very dark and Ella suffers kidnapping and physical abuse that gives the book a PG13 rating. Yet I think the story would appeal to many readers.
The first law of writing is "show, not tell." I was frustrated by pages and pages of being told, the author missing opportunities for action. Like many mysteries, one reason why most don't appeal to me, someone has to explain the whole background story to clear up the unknown. Much of the character insight is through long passages of being told their thoughts.
Strong women characters with masculine activities or abilities are trendy right now, the Action Hero Warrior Woman showing up in film, television and movies. I do have trouble with such characters placed in historical settings where they are not 'probable.' The characters act like 21st century thinkers. Some historical fiction captures the time and place with characters that are of that time. As I am finding, some uses the historical setting but tell a more modern tale.
And yet the story does not read modern. The 'Perils of Pauline' aspect of Ella's journey was too much for my taste. Many will love the roller coaster ride of twists and turns. I personally like something deep and transformative to happen as the character grows and struggles with a problem.
The author is horticulturist with a lifelong interest in books and writing. The Clever Mill Horse is the first book about Ella's adventures. Read more about Jodie Lew-Smith at http://jodilewsmith.com
I received an e-book copy of The Clever Mill Horse through NetGalley and Caspian Press for a fair review.
The Clever Mill Horse
Publication August 15, 2014
ISBN: 9780991341207 paperback
ISBN: 978-0-9913412-1-4 e-book