From Kirkus Reviews
An accomplished novel that looks at the true wildness of the wilderness and the stakes of rugged individualism.
In 1806, a massive swamp stretches across northeastern Ohio. In the not-so-distant town of Severne, separated from the swamp by the Thieving Forest, there live five sisters who are just starting to learn how to get along following the deaths of their parents. It seems bearable enough until a band of Potawatomi tribesmen emerges from the woods, loots the girls’ home, and kidnaps Aurelia, Penelope and Naomi. Aurelia, partially scalped by one of her captors, is found by searchers not long afterward and dies a few days later; Penelope and Naomi remain missing, and Susanna and Beatrice begin what seems an impossible journey to find them. A trying, harrowing search follows, vitiated by uncertainty and the dangers of shifting geography as well as racial and political disputes.
The story is a careful consideration of the strength and flexibility of family bonds, as the sisters each go their own ways in the aftermath of the attack, though not always by choice. Susanna dreams of reuniting with her sisters, even when the dream seems destined to remain unfulfilled; after a long expedition with a native woman as a guide, for example, she finds that one of her sisters has married into a Native American tribe. Conway’s (12 Bliss Street , 2003) historical novel features prose as rich as its characters; throughout, it looks at the hard facts of settling the American frontier and the capacity of the imagination to surpass the limitations of one’s surroundings. The stark, solid plot never plods, moving deftly between the characters’ physical and spiritual trials. Overall, it’s a hypnotic, capacious and cutting evocation of a bleak period of American history.
An elegiac, hopeful historical novel.
—Kirkus Reviews, July 2014
From Publisher’s Weekly
In Conway’s novel, four recently orphaned sisters in 19th-century Ohio are abducted by Potawatomi Native Americans, and a feisty fifth, Susanna Quiner, the youngest, is forced to brave the untamed forest in order to rescue them. Aiding her on her quest is Adam, a crusty tracker, and Seth Spendlove, a secretive young neighbor. Meanwhile, the kidnapped sisters are overcome with fear and uncertainty. Susanna’s long journey finds her struggling with a situation that forces her to grow up quickly…. Conway’s book renders the Black Swamp region very well; the environment itself, seemingly endless and unmoved by Susanna’s human trial, is so evocative as to feel like a formidable antagonist. The scope of this old-fashioned pioneer adventure yarn is also impressive, and the full arc of Conway’s characters’ development, combined with a satisfying ending, is memorable.
—Publisher’s Weekly, March 2015
From San Jose Mercury News
South Bay author Martha Conway, an instructor for the Online Writers Studio at Stanford University, takes the reader on a gripping journey through early 19th-century America in “The Thieving Forest.” Set in the harsh landscape of northern Ohio’s Great Black Swamp in 1806, it’s the story of five sisters, ages 17 to 23, struggling to survive after the death of their parents. When a band of Potawatomi tribesmen raids their home and kidnaps three of the sisters, the other two, named Susanna and Beatrice, embark on a harrowing search and rescue mission. Conway evokes the hardships of the American frontier in telling detail, and “Thieving Forest” emerges a powerful tale of sisterhood and survival.
—San Jose Mercury News, November 2014
From Reader’s Favorite
When Susanna Quiner went out of the Ohio house she shared with her four sisters in order to feed the pig one morning, she did not imagine she might not see them for a very long time, or even forever. Thieving Forest by Martha Conway follows Susanna’s determined search for her sisters after she witnesses their abduction by Native Americans. During this journey, Susanna learns to work hard and do things she would have never imagined, and most of all she learns how much she loves her sisters and how she would stop at nothing to find them. The journey is life-changing for all the Quiners, and some discover very surprising things about themselves and the sacrifices and the life choices they ultimately make. The experience either destroys the life of some or gives a clear path in life to others.
Thieving Forest is a well written novel, very rich in historical details of how life in 1806 must have been. Martha Conway vividly describes a time when a human life was valued less than a horse’s and when people – regardless of race – were traded across America like cattle. It is evident the extent of the research Conway did into the geography of Ohio, the swamps, the food, the diseases that people were battling with, and most of all, the customs of the Native Americans at a time when some of them were dealing with/living in the same settlements as white people, while most of them followed their old tribal ways. Besides being a historical novel, Thieving Forest is a compelling mystery which I read breathlessly, keen to find out what happens next. It also made me think about the precariousness of what we value in life, the same as the Quiners did once with a completely different perspective. The depths of the issues considered, the wealth of historical detail, the realistic descriptions of the never ending forests and the creatures living there, and the actual story line all combine to make Thieving Forest a great read. I have nothing but good things to say about Thieving Forest. I really enjoyed reading it and it is a pleasure to occasionally find such a great book. I highly recommend it.
—Reader’s Favorite, April 2015
“Thieving Forest showcases Conway as a force to be reckoned within the realm of historical fiction.” (Digital Journal)
“Conway’s literary skill shines in the setting and time period … [the] descriptions are precise, atmospheric, and haunting.” (Foreword Magazine)
“A gripping tale of survival and gumption.” (Akron Beacon Journal)