cover image The Wings of Morning

The Wings of Morning

Karen Harper. Dutton Books, $20 (384pp) ISBN 978-0-525-93614-5

Well researched, meticulously detailed and written in agile prose, Harper's second historical novel (after Circle of Gold ) is set in three colorful locations in the 1850s. She first evokes life on the Scottish Island of St. Kilda, where young widow Abigail MacQueen is further bereaved when her infant son dies of a mysterious illness that kills many other newborns in her village. Determined to find the cause of the disease, Abigail leaves her small community to do further investigation in England. She weds American sea captain Morgan West, but tragedy strikes again when he dies in the Civil War. Abigail then finds refuge in the house Morgan had built on Sanibel Island, Fla., where she works to protect both the bird population and fleeing slaves. Harper's multi-plotted adventure/romance is richly textured, and her depiction of the St. Kilda islanders' cottage industry occupations (dye making, feather gathering, fabric weaving) is colorful and informative. While the narrative is initially somewhat off-putting because of the Scottish dialect, the marriage of authentic background material--especially the facts about the actual epidemic of infant deaths-- and the varied settings will keep readers engrossed. (June)