Winner of the 2014 James River Writers Indie Novel Contest.
A young woman’s gift could weave together the fabric of a nation…
1810, upstate New York. 21-year-old Ella Kenyon is happiest gliding through the thick woods around her small frontier town, knife in hand, her sharp eyes tracking game. A gift for engineering is in her blood, but she would gladly trade it for more time in the forest. If only her grandfather’s dying wish hadn’t trapped her into a fight she never wanted.
Six years ago, Ella’s grandfather made her vow to finish his life’s work: a flax-milling machine that has the potential to rescue her mother, brother, and sister from the brutality of life with her drunkard father. The copious linen it yields could save her struggling town, subjugate the growing grip of southern cotton. Or it could be Ella’s downfall. If she’s not quick enough, not clever enough to succeed, more than her own life rests in the balance…
Praise for The Clever Mill Horse
“Jodi Lew-Smith’s The Clever Mill Horse is that rarest of all contemporary novels: an authentically old-fashioned adventure story, in all the best senses. Full of drama, humor, plot surprises, and, best of all, memorable characters, The Clever Mill Horse had me hooked from page one. Best of all, there’s a sequel coming. I can’t wait.” – Howard Frank Mosher, author of Where the Rivers Flow North
“In this delightful debut novel set in the early 19th century, a young woman fights to patent her flax-milling machine. . .An assured, cleverly plotted piece of historical fiction with an irrepressible female protagonist.” – Kirkus Reviews
“. . .intricately plotted and exceedingly well paced. . . filled with danger, science, and suspense, the story rings true with historical and natural detail. . . a complete and finely polished first novel.” – Foreword Reviews
I wanted to like this book. I love historical fiction featuring strong women and the idea of a woman engineer in this time period--the days of slavery and horses and carriages and Native Americans not yet conquered to the point of near extinction--just really appealed to me.
The book got a rocky start. Though the heroine is an inventor, she prefers to spend her days roaming the forest tracking and hunting. Those scenes bored me to pieces. It's not something that interests me at all. On top of that, there was an entire repeated scene and incorrect then and thans. This could be the mobi file I was provided for the tour.
I hung in there, fully aware that review copies contain glitches and while I am pleased that the editing greatly improved, the story didn't. It's a historical fiction, don't get me wrong, but it felt more like a girl's adventure story. There were simply too many things I found preposterous. This young woman, for example, running around with her siblings and an Indian, wearing pants, just riding all over the country. She doesn't even have a chaperone half the time. She's a young woman who races boys like a fourteen-year-old. Her character never acts the same age. It's unclear. One minute she acts like a child. The next she's a grown woman trying to get a patent. I love women who defied society, but it must be believable and this just wasn't. The most believable character for the time period was her mother, a woman who felt she had to stay with an abusive man. Every other character was doing things or behaving in a manner that had me raising eyebrows considering the time period they were in. I mean, young while girls were not permitted to run around with grown Native American men, let alone travel the country with them.
The aunt and her Native lover... her grandfather's faked death. How easily her and Zeke steal her horse back. Seriously? I could go on but I choose not to.
And the story also went all over the place. It felt like in the end, the invention and her being an engineer were only just a very small part. We follow her on her trek as she meets people and they share their stories of war and whatever. She just keeps getting sidetracked by slaves, groups of Indians, card-playing tavern girls, on her journey and this means the story itself was constantly sidetracked.
This one wasn't for me, but then I don't go for adventure-type tales. I was expecting a more serious story about a young woman struggling to be an engineer, not running all over the country meeting people and searching for her grandpa.
Jodi Lew-Smith lives on a farm in northern Vermont with her patient husband, three wonderfully impatient children, a bevy of pets and farm animals, and 250 exceedingly patient apple trees which, if they could talk, would suggest that she stop writing and start pruning. Luckily they’re pretty quiet.
With a doctorate in plant genetics, she also lives a double life as a vegetable breeder at High Mowing Seeds. She is grateful for the chance to do so many things in one lifetime, and only wishes she could do them all better. Maybe in the next life she’ll be able to make up her mind.
For more about Jodi and about the lives and world of the characters in the novel, visit her website or blog. You can also connect with her on Facebook andGoodreads.