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Book Review: The Young Fur Traders

The Young Fur Traders: A Tale of the Far North (5 star review)

The Young Fur Traders: A Tale of the Far North

written by R.M. Ballantyne

491 pages // published in 1856 // historical adventure fiction


This is the story of the hard life of a trapper in Canada in the early 1800s. Charlie Kennedy lives in the Canadian arctic colony known as the Red River Settlement with Indians, Scotsmen, and French-Canadian settlers. His father, an old fur trader, hopes to convince his son to become a clerk by recounting the dangers of the trapper’s life, but the stories only inspire the boy more to explore the vast Canadian wilderness.

Through a variety of circumstances, Charlie finds himself trapping in the vast forests, on a journey with voyageurs down perilous rivers, and surviving all sorts of scrapes and adventures with a new acquaintance, Jacques Caradoc, and an Indian named “Red Feather.”

Many of Charlie’s exploits are taken from the real-life experiences of R.M. Ballantyne’s own time with the Hudson Bay Company in Canada. Just as Ballantyne had done, Charlie learns to shoot mercury from his rifle through a two inch board in 39 degree below zero temperatures! Discover the strenuous and vigorous life of a trapper through the eyes of Charlie and his intrepid friends.

My Review

5 Star Rating

My first takeaway: A Scottish author telling (in detail) all about the rugged landscape of North America? Hmm, this is a twist, one I don't encounter too often – but it turned out well. The author seems to be thoroughly educated on the topic and has created a believable setting.

Charlie Kennedy and his other young friends have waited for an adventure in the wilderness all their lives, instead of having a mundane “desk job” at the settlement. Finally chance allows them to set out intrepidly into the unknown, where they'll have to fend for themselves, and survive as trappers in the cold and biting weather... A long-forgotten (tough and dangerous) style of life is brought alive for us to read about.

There's a lot that I enjoyed in this novel, so here's a list of the basics:

1. Ballantyne is witty and humorous in his writing, sometimes fitting in absolutely absurd remarks. I couldn't help but laugh out loud on occasion – maybe it was something a character said, or maybe just the way in which the author describes a comical scene (scratch that, even in serious scenes he can still add something amusing in there). I love his writing style.

“'My eye,' exclaimed Harry, in an undertone, 'how precious cold it is!'
His eye making no reply to this remark, he arose...”

2. God is in control... many times, the story brings out the goodness and grace of God, and how the natural beauty we see on earth is done only by His hand (the forests, the animals, etc). I was greatly encouraged by the intensity and frequency of mentions of God throughout the novel. This book (and others by the author) make for good spiritual food, even if it is fiction.

3. As a tag-along to my previous note, there is also sound Biblical wisdom shared on these pages. Some passages are almost overwhelming in the precious words. For example, just before embarking on an adventure into manhood, a clergyman provides a small sermon that is fit for any growing boy. Later in the story, the men discuss topics such as lies and good/bad morals of the world – and how to handle tough temptations as a child of God as to come through it triumphantly.

Any age, young or old can enjoy it. If you have an adventurous reader on your hands, I'd say anywhere from 10 and up could enjoy it. (Some kids might consider it a long or slightly dry read, but if they like anything that's written more in the vintage style, then they'd probably be just fine with it.)

“'[W]here's the kettle, Hamilton? Have you eaten it?'
'If you compose yourself a little, Harry, and look at the fire, you'll see it boiling there.'
'Man, what a chap you are for making unnecessary speeches. Couldn't you tell me to look at the fire, without the preliminary piece of advice to compose myself? Besides, you talk nonsense, for I'm composed already, of blood, bones, flesh, sinews, fat, and–'”

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