Follow the River by James Alexander Thom
Published by: Random House
Published on: 1981
Page Count: 406
Genre: Historical Fiction
My Reading Format: Audiobook purchased with an Audible credit for Armchair Audies
Audiobook Published by: Tantor Audio
Narrator: David Drummond
Audiobook Length: 16 hours 10 minutes
Available Formats: Hardcover, paperback, eBook, and Audiobook
Note: My review will contain spoilers if you are not familiar with the story of Mary Draper Ingles.
Follow the River is based on the true story of Mary Draper Ingles, a woman who was taken captive by the Shawnee Indians in July of 1755. The novel begins with her capture. It then follows her journey with her captors to the Ohio River, her time in the Indian camps, her escape, and her return home to Drapers Meadow in Southwest Virginia.
Follow the River started off with a bang. Mary has a feeling of foreboding when her husband leaves the cottage to work in the fields that morning. It would have been best had he heeded her before the middle of the workday. It was then that the Shawnee attacked their settlement, killing several people the infant son of Bette Draper, Mary’s sister-in-law. The scene of the attack, which occurred during the French and Indian War, was gruesome and James Alexander Thom provided enough detail to set the reader on edge for everyone in the settlement without making the reading experience sickening. The scalpings and the murder of the Draper baby were the hardest part to read. I was thankful for the attack to be over, even if that meant that Mary, her two sons, Bette, and a neighbor were captured and being forcibly taken from their homes.
The remainder of the novel dealt with the journey to the Shawnee settlement, the lives of the captives in the settlement, and Mary’s escape from captivity and journey back to Virginia. There was a constant fear of what was to happen to them. They couldn’t understand why they were spared in Draper’s Meadow and had no idea what awaited them in the future. It was interesting to see how the realities of the Shawnee settlement compared to the reality. In some ways, though, Mary’s journey back home was the most harrowing part. She was without a guide. Although she brought Gretel along with her, she was the driving force for all that happened. Their survival depended entirely upon her and her wit.
While at first I wondered why the story of a woman was narrated by a man, David Drummond did an excellent job with Follow the River. His voice has a quality that is perfect for narrating a novel set in the outdoors. He did well with voice characterizations and this novel provided excellent challenges. There were several Native American characters and, my favorite, the crazy old Dutch woman Gretel. I enjoyed his work with her character especially. David Drummond is a narrator to keep in mind when selecting audiobooks.
I was impressed with James Alexander Thom’s novel. I very much felt like I was there with Mary. Living near the area where Mary lived made this novel that much more interesting for me. I’ve traveled along the New River quite a bit and the descriptions of the mountainous terrain was consistent with what Mary experienced. Although the area is now developed, there are stretches of 460 heading into West Virginia that still have that same feeling. There were times toward the end of the novel when it seemed as though the conflicts Mary and Gretel experienced would never end. I’m sure that my impatience mirrored that of the women, but I don’t think it would have taken away from the experience to have combined some of the stories about managing tributaries or handling Gretel’s stability. As a whole, though, Mary was a strong woman and I found her story inspiring. If you’re looking for good historical fiction pertaining to the beginnings of the United States, Follow the River is an excellent choice, especially in audio.