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The Pioneer: Book Three of the Alford Saga Reviewed By Barbara C. Burgess of Bookpleasures.com
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Barbara C. Burgess
Reviewer Barbara C. Burgess: Barbara is the author of The Magic Manuscript: The Nine Companions. She holds a BA honors degree from McGill University and also did graduate studies in medieval English literature at McGill. Barbara is an English teacher, freelance editor and writer. She has contributed articles, judged in writing competitions, and written a health column for various magazines.

You can Follow HERE for her YA fantasy novel The Magic Manuscript: the Nine Companions.

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By Barbara C. Burgess
Published on January 20, 2013
 

Author: Paul Almond

Publisher: McArthur & Company

ISBN: 9781770871236



Author: Paul Almond

Publisher: McArthur & Company

ISBN: 9781770871236

 

The Pioneer is the third book in the Alford Saga—a series of novels written by Paul Almond, well-known Canadian film and television director. The saga has garnered much international and national acclaim, and for good reason—it provides an in-depth look into Canadian life over the past two hundred years. The Pioneer is set in Quebec in the years 1853 to 1863, and most of the action takes place in Montreal and in the Gaspé region.

Reading The Pioneer, I found myself thinking that the narrative makes history come alive. Facts about Canadian history that I had to memorize for school exams—events and scenes which seemed far removed from modern life—suddenly appeared relevant, vivid, and fascinating as I turned the pages of the book. The author has skillfully woven into his story many interesting historical details, such as the fact that Nelson’s Column was built as a tribute to Lord Nelson in 1809 with the financial support of both French and English and the fact that the Victoria Bridge was achieved by back-breaking labour undertaken by people like young Jim Alford, men who were desperate for work. Through effective dialogue and wonderful description, we the readers are pulled back into some of the formative years of urban and rural life in Quebec and have the opportunity to see everything through fresh eyes.


The book is titled The Pioneer, which seems appropriate as it describes James Alford’s life on his farm and the activities in his family and community. After having deserted a British merchant ship, (described in the first novel The Deserter), James had eventually settled into rugged pioneering life on the Gaspé Coast. In The Pioneer, we read about James’ perceptions and experiences in the latter part of his life and we simultaneously follow the adventures and challenges experienced by his son, Jim, who travels 700 miles from the Gaspé to reach Montreal. Following the two accounts, which are masterfully interwoven in the story, I found myself quite taken by the marvellous pioneering spirit of the people of that era. Everything I had taken for granted about Montreal, my hometown, suddenly had a living history and seemed more vibrant than ever. The skill that Paul Almond, director-turned-author, exhibits through zeroing in on a scene and then moving deftly to the next scene, catches our interest and maintains it through a novel that is without question well paced.


As with The Pilgrim (the fourth book in the series), I can reiterate that one can certainly read The Pioneer without having read the novels that precede it; it stands on its own as a great novel, one which will likely endure as a classic in Canadian literature. 


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