About the Book
Book: Love’s Fortress
Author: Jennifer Uhlarik
Genre: Christian Fiction / Historical fiction / Romance
Release date: March, 2022
Upon receiving word that her long-estranged father has passed away, Dani Sango inherits the former art forger’s entire estate. Among his many pieces of artwork are a series of obviously Native American drawings and paintings, which lead her to research St. Augustine of 1875. White Elk is transported to Florida to join other Cheyenne braves already being held in Fort Marion. Sally Jo Harris is at the fort teaching the Indians. When a friendship develops between them and false accusations fly, it could cost them their lives. Can Dani discover how their story ends and how it shaped her own father’s life?
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About the Author
Jennifer Uhlarik discovered the western genre as a preteen, when she swiped the only “horse” book she found on her older brother’s bookshelf. A new love was born. Across the next ten years, she devoured Louis L’Amour westerns and fell in love with the genre. In college at the University of Tampa, she began penning her own story of the Old West. Armed with a BA in writing, she has won five writing competitions and was a finalist in two others. In addition to writing, she has held jobs as a private business owner, a schoolteacher, a marketing director, and her favorite—a full-time homemaker. Jennifer is active in American Christian Fiction Writers and is a lifetime member of the Florida Writers Association. She lives near Tampa, Florida, with her husband, teenage son, and four fur children.
More from Jennifer
Florida has been my home since I was ten, and I’ve visited the city of St. Augustine several times in my many years here. There, I stumbled across the fact that the Castillo de San Marcos, the town’s 350-year-old Spanish fort, was home to several groups of Native Americans in the 1800s. Ever since learning this fact, I’ve considered writing a story about the three-year period from 1875-1878 when seventy-three Plains Indians from various tribes called the fort (known then as Fort Marion) their home. However, since I’m mainly a western and western romance author, all of my story settings to date have been west of the Mississippi—not in Florida. So this interesting historical factoid remained dormant in my imagination for years, waiting for the right opportunity.
That opportunity came last year when I was asked to submit an idea for Barbour’s dual-timeline Doors to the Past series. These stories must be set in or around a major landmark, the plot must focus on a newsworthy event, and there must be a bit of a mystery that connects the historical timeline to the contemporary plot. Obviously, as the oldest masonry fort in the United States, Castillo de San Marcos is an important and interesting landmark. Originally built by the Spanish, it later became a British possession, reverted again to the Spanish, and eventually became part of the United States’ holdings. With such a long and varied history, I’m sure you can see why this unique structure would make an interesting landmark around which to base a story.
The newsworthy event the plot focuses on is the incarceration of those seventy-three Plains Indians, deemed some of the “worst of the worst” offenders in the Indians Wars of the West. Can you imagine the buzz such an event would create? Once the Indians fell into their routine inside the fort, they were given quite a bit of freedom to interact with the locals and tourists. People came from far and wide to see these men and their historic surroundings along the banks of the Matanzas River. With a simple day pass from the fort’s commander, outsiders could enter, walk among and talk with the prisoners, see the historic fort, and even watch cultural events like dances, powwows, mock buffalo hunts, and archery displays. The Native men could also leave the fort and venture into town to shop or sell handmade goods, from bows and arrows to hand-crafted items made from locally-sourced seashells and plants, to their original “ledger art.”
It’s the ledger art that comprises the mysterious puzzle piece connecting the historical timeline of Love’s Fortress to the present day. When Dani Sango learns her long-estranged father has died, she inherits his rundown St. Augustine house. Inside, she discovers a book of Native American art depicting events from one Indian’s daily life. But because her father was a convicted art forger, Dani questions why he would have the strange and rudimentary artwork. She suspects it was his latest scam, so she enlists the help of Brad Osgood, curator of a western art museum in St. Petersburg, Florida, to help her discover where the art originated and how her father came to possess it. In the process, the pair digs deep into the history of the St. Augustine fort and its former residents.
I found it fascinating to research this brief period in the Castillo’s long history, and I hope you’ll enjoy the story that came from my efforts.
Love’s Fortress by Jennifer Uhlarik is book seven in Barbour’s “Doors to the Past” series, and in many ways, I find it to be the most compelling thus far. I also commend both the author and the publisher for taking on this controversial subject, especially at such a divisive time in our country. The treatment of Native Americans is a source of much bitterness and anger, and understandably so, and to approach this from a Christian viewpoint both historically and currently offers a healing lens that can serve well going forward. One of the advantages of fiction is that it allows for the exploration of how current ideas could have changed the outcome of historical situations, or how historical methods could influence contemporary issues.
Uhlarik skillfully articulates several of the main obstacles involved in the three-year incarceration of the seventy-three Native American men from various tribes at the Castillo de San Marcos (later renamed Fort Marion) in St. Augustine, Florida, in 1875. They were detained due to their roles in the conflicts in the American West. Through the characters of Lieutenant Richard Henry Pratt and Broken Bow, primarily, the challenges of forced assimilation become evident, as well as the impact of Christianity. Broken Bow’s character demonstrates how difficult it was for the Native Americans to understand the foundation of the Christian faith, and how important effective communication is, not only in ministering to others, but in establishing the trust necessary to earn another’s respect. If we want someone to listen to us regarding personal matters and beliefs, we first need to demonstrate our care for them; other approaches likely seem condemnatory, be that the intention or not.
Relationships likewise constitute another major theme in Love’s Fortress. As a dual-timeline story set in 1875 and in the present day, generational trauma and moral tradition both inform the narrative through the characters’ actions and the resulting series of events. As surprising as some of the revelations were, they all serve as reminders to disregard rumors in favor of facts. So much tragedy stems from relying on the incorrect interpretation of another’s culture or lifestyle. As such, Matty Joie is an exemplary illustration of the joyful servants that the Lord calls us to be. Likewise, one observation by Sally Jo Harris particularly resonated with me: “Just as if they were on a mission field in some faraway country, she and the others must rely on God’s leading and His timing. If she and Luke would have made it to Liberia or another mission field, her experiences would have differed there too. And regardless of where they were called, no one held the power to bring true healing and change through their own wisdom. Only the Holy Spirit could break down those walls.” The mission field is often within our own communities, and sometimes all it takes is a wild goose chase to find the blessings God has planned for us!
I received a complimentary copy of this book through Celebrate Lit and was not required to post a favorable review. All opinions are my own.
My Rating: 5 stars ♥♥♥♥♥
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To celebrate her tour, Jennifer is giving away the grand prize package of a $25 Amazon gift card and paperback copy of the book!!
Be sure to comment on the blog stops for nine extra entries into the giveaway! Click the link below to enter.