John Patrick and Molly Donovan had ten offspring, Adam and Brian being the eldest and twins (see Cast of Characters 1).
When her sons were born in Ireland, Molly had honored the Donovan family tradition of naming the first-born male of the new generation for the first man in the Bible. Then for her pride in her own family, she had named her second son for the greatest High King of lreland, Brian Boru, from whom her father had claimed descent. A third son followed, and was named Conor, the honor going this time to John Patrick’s mother, Katie O’Connor Donovan.
Katie teased John Patrick and Molly about the names their first three children bore, calling them “my little alphabet”. But when the fourth boy was born after they emigrated to America, she suggested he be named Daniel. When their first daughter came into the world, John Patrick and Molly christened her Evelyn. The tradition continued: twin boys were born again, and named Frank and Geordie. Then little Henry, who died of influenza when he was two years old. Another daughter, Irene, and finally an eighth son, named John James and called “Jake” to distinguish him from his father.
Conor Donovan was nine months old when the family left Ireland. During the eight-week voyage he learned to stand, and then to walk, with a sailor’s rolling gait. Eventually he went back to the sea, the Captain of his own ship, the M‘Lady. Conor does not often get to visit his home and is sorely missed.
Daniel is essentially “odd man out” in the Donovan family. Neither farmer nor cowboy, he doesn’t work the land he loves, yet he lives closer to it than any of the others. He wears buckskins of his own making. The local tribe of Navajo have dubbed him The Woodsman for his skill in hunting and tracking.
Daniel is a sensitive, thoughtful man, slow to anger and quick to laugh at himself. His voice is deep and gravelly as the result of a childhood accident, and it is Daniel who first discovers Jesse’s tragic secrets. (The next book in the saga, THE WOODSMAN’S ROSE, will feature the romance between Daniel and Annie Griffiths.)
Evelyn is the image of her mother. Tall, regal, with a generous figure and fiery red hair, Evelyn is Adam’s closest confidante. Willful yet persevering, she is first to volunteer when Adam wants to help Jesse Travers, and her kind-hearted empathy with the younger woman helps pave the way for Jesse’s acceptance of the family’s assistance.
Frank and Geordie, the younger twins, prefer farming to ranching. Like the older twins, they have totally different personalities: Frank with a mind always focused on money and a face and body always in motion; Geordie calm and seemingly detached, but seeing much more than his family realizes. When it comes to looks they are as like as Adam and Brian are different. Or, as Brian puts it, “they’re as like as two ears on a jackrabbit. One’s jus’ a little bit longer and does a sight more twitchin‘, but find ‘em standin’ still an’ it takes some doin’ t’ tell the right ear from the left.”
Irene at sixteen is as tall as Evelyn, worried about becoming taller still. With black hair, ivory skin and deep blue eyes, she is the female version of Adam, as lovely as he is handsome. Still the spoiled baby, not above pouting and sulking to get her way, Irene is also generous, soft-hearted and naïve.
And lastly, Jake. At fifteen, his school days are over and he’s struggling with manhood. He apes his brothers, imitating Adam’s hint of brogue or Daniel’s deep southern drawl. He flashes from pillar to post with Frank or relaxes with Geordie, when he’s not following Brian around like a puppy. Almost as tall as Adam and thin as a rake, with shock of bright red hair and freckled skin, Jake has an innate optimism that’s rarely shaken.
And there you have the Donovan siblings. Good people, hardworking, generous, instilled by their father with the belief that without family, a man has nothing. And without being a good neighbor, a man is nothing. And that’s the philosophy that lays the groundwork for their story.
Do you have a favorite character among the siblings? No spoilers, but one character, so far, gets over 50% of the votes — do you know who it is?