What happens when the realization of a dream isn’t what you imagined…and the secret you’ve spent a lifetime guarding is finally laid bare?
Determined to become one of the country’s premier newspaper photographers, Elizabeth Westbrook travels to the Colorado Territory to capture the grandeur of the mountains surrounding the remote town of Timber Ridge. She hopes, too, that the cool, dry air of Colorado, and its renowned hot springs, will cure the mysterious illness that threatens her career, and her life.
Daniel Ranslett, a former Confederate sharpshooter, is a man shackled by his past, and he’ll do anything to protect his land, and his solitude. When an outspoken Yankee photographer captures an image that appears key to solving a murder, putting herself in danger, Daniel is called upon to repay a debt. He’s a man of his word, but repaying that debt could bring secrets from his past to light.
Forced on a perilous journey together, Daniel and Elizabeth’s lives intertwine in ways neither could have imagined when first they met…from a distance.
Elizabeth Westbrook’s dream of becoming a newpaper photographer whose work is accepted under her own name (instead of a male pen name), is put to the test when she travels to the untamed Colorado Territory. Her assignment is to take pictures of the area’s majestic countryside and surreptitiously investigate the feasibility of investors back east developing the area around the town of Timber Ridge into a resort property. Elizabeth is a strong, prickly character whose occasionally abrasive manner can be a little hard to take. However, Alexander does an excellent job of balancing Elizabeth’s drive to succeed with her fears and insecurities. Her brash manner is extremely realistic compensation for a lifetime of hurt and struggle. In a society that held certain limited expectations for the role of women, Elizabeth bucks convention on multiple fronts.
Daniel Ranslett, who served as a Confederate sharpshooter in the war, immediately clashes with Elizabeth. He doesn’t understand her drive and she doesn’t understand his enigmatic manner and reluctance to serve as her guide. However, his loner status masks pain of a different sort – the mental and emotional toll of combat. Daniel is a wonderful hero – though he’s a wounded, gentle spirit he possesses a core of unwavering moral strength and character. He’s the perfect foil for Elizabeth, who has some tough lessons to learn about truth and honor while in turn he must learn about brokenness and trust.
From a Distance is a beautifully crafted, thoroughly absorbing novel full of richly drawn, unforgettable characters. There’s a dash of mystery, but the real strength of the novel is the journey Elizabeth and Daniel undergo towards surrender. Elizabeth and Daniel are two of the most well-drawn, imperfect characters I’ve ever run across – you know characters are “real” when you alternately want to shake them when you’re frustrated, empathize with their hurts, and cheer at their triumphs. As a native of Tennessee and an amateur Civil War history buff, I loved how Alexander wove together snippets of Tennessee and Civil War history into her Colorado frontier-set story. While the action of the novel takes place ten years after the end of the Civil War, Alexander does a beautiful job of showing the heartbreaking, far-reaching cost of that conflict on its survivors. I also enjoyed learning about photographic processes in the 1800’s – it’s eye-opening to read about the processes and Elizabeth’s job struggles in an era when cameras (and women in the workforce) are taken for granted. This is a novel about choices – how one chooses to overcome tragedy, health problems, trust issues – and God’s sovereignty and care over even the most minute details of one’s life. When the dreams they cling to are stripped away, Daniel and Elizabeth’s story shows how in vulnerability and brokenness God pours out blessings and strength and dreams much greater and more rewarding than one’s human frailty can possibly imagine.
I originally reviewed From a Distance way back in September 2008. I'm finally (FINALLY!!) diving into book two of the trilogy, so I thought now was a good time to add this review to the blog.