Amelia 1868 is the latest novel from author Janet Kay. As in her debut piece, Waters of the Dancing Sky, Kay uses explicit, beautiful descriptions of the book’s setting to tell a unique story that captures the reader’s attention. This is a dynamic tale of a bright, free spirited young woman who is driven to complete an unknown mission that has dominated many aspects of her life.
Prairie Rose Johanssen is a thirty-year-old run-away bride. As the story opens, “Rose” not only leaves her devoted fiancé, Bob, at the altar, but allows her fear of commitment to drive her away from her hometown of Walnut, Iowa. With her dog Lucky at her side, Rose travels away from the confinement of marriage on a journey to discover her main purpose in life. It is a journey that has been calling for Rose since she was a young girl.
As a writer with a history of jumping from job to job, Rose has proven herself to be commitment-phobic in relationships even before bailing on her vows. Rose and her dog head west and find themselves in Seeley Lake, Montana where she rents a camping space and finds part-time work at a local store that sells antiques. One day at work, Rose sees a clock that the owners of the store have acquired from a nearby town, and she faints from the rush of memories that suddenly inundate her. She then becomes obsessed with learning the origins of the clock and the identity of the person whose initials were carved into the piece. The search for knowledge about the clock leads Rose to Ennis and then Virginia City, a former gold rush town. When Rose meets the Virginia City librarian and the former owner of the clock, Paul Dubois, she finds herself instantly attracted to and troubled by the odd, handsome man. After accepting a job as Paul’s research assistant, her long sought mission in life begins to unfold gradually before her: The ghost of a saloon dancer haunts Rose until the truth of her death comes to the surface. As Rose researches the woman’s past, she struggles with the conflicting feelings she holds for Paul and the fiancé she left behind.
Kay is a remarkable storyteller who adroitly combines fiction and history to create stories with depth and meaning. Rose’s story highlights the author’s ability to use place as a technique for fleshing out the human experience in her work: Tying her characters to a particular setting makes them appear whole; as if they were actual parts of the history she writes about. While reading this book, I often stopped to search online for images of the places Rose visited in Montana; Kay’s descriptions where so vivid and enticing I needed to see them with my own eyes. I did the same when I read Waters of the Dancing Sky. This author simply has a gift for putting readers in the scenes of her stories and in the middle of her characters’ lives.
Amelia 1868 combines history, romance and the supernatural in an elegant tale of love, loss and purpose. I highly recommended it.
Melissa Brown Levine
Independent Professional Book Reviewers