Willa Cather wrote “Shadows on the Rock” immediately after her other historical masterpiece, “Death Comes for the Archbishop.” Like its predecessor, this novel of seventeenth-century Quebec is a luminous evocation of North American origins, and of the men and women who struggled to adapt to that new world even as they clung to the artifacts and manners of the one they left behind.
In 1697, Quebec is an island of French civilization perched on a bare gray rock amid a wilderness of trackless forests. For many of its settlers, Quebec is a place of exile, so remote that an entire winter passes without a word from home. But to twelve-year-old Cecile Auclair, the rock is home, where even the formidable Governor Frontenac entertains children in his palace and beavers lie beside the lambs in a Christmas creche. As Cather follows this devout and resourceful child over the course of a year, she re-creates the continent as it must have appeared to its first European inhabitants. And she gives us a spellbinding work of historical fiction in which great events occur first as rumors and then as legends–and in which even the most intimate domestic scenes are suffused with a sense of wonder.