Dale Neal’s fifth novel, The Woman with the Stone Knife, imagines the life of a Cherokee woman exiled for 20 years in Georgian England, torn between two worlds and two choices. Remain in London to avenge her husband’s death or reunite with the son she left behind in the Cherokee mountains. Helena Ostenaco Timberlake steps into history in 1786 when she petitions the British crown to return to a newly independent America. Was she really the wife of a white soldier, Lt. Henry Timberlake, who had visited the Cherokee in 1762? Was she the daughter of Ostenaco, the Cherokee chief who had returned with Timberlake to visit King George III? Widely researched and deeply imagined, The Woman with the Stone Knife follows the life of this mysterious woman. She was born Skitty in the Overhills towns of the Cherokee. Following Timberlake, Skitty leaves behind her infant son and makes the arduous Atlantic crossing, only to find herself abandoned in England after Timberlake’s death in debtor’s prison in 1765. She is rescued by a Quaker accountant, Squire Wolfe and his black manservant Frank, who save her from a sideshow in a London tavern. Baptized as Helena Ostenaco Timberlake, she brushes elbows with luminaries such as Samuel Johnson and James Boswell and has her portrait painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds. She earns money importing sassafras and porcelain clay from her native Cherokee mountains, hoping to buy her passage back to her homeland. But the American Revolution intervenes, upsetting her fortunes. Tribal tradition demands that she seek blood revenge for her husband’s death, but if she kills the responsible officer, she will likely never see her son and her people again. Skitty/Helena faces a terrible choice between murder and memory, guilt and forgiveness.
What early readers are saying:
“We turn to historical novels to find the past, to see lost worlds animated again, the color and costume, the custom and civilization. But only in the best historical novels do we touch the real seething lives of the individuals who lived in those worlds. The Woman with the Stone Knife is one of these. Eighteenth century Carolinas and London spring to life in all their detail and vibrancy, but it’s Skitty’s journey, that of a woman torn between two worlds, that consumes us, the deep striving to claim her life and identity, to make the world her own at last."
– Lewis Buzbee, author of The Haunting of Charles Dickens and The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop