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This review was written by David McMahon, a member of the Tuesday Evening Book Club.
The eponymous protagonist of this novel is a mysterious, beautiful and determined woman who is building a logging empire in the Appalachians in the eastern United States during the great depression. We learn little of Serena's background, child of a timber man in Colorado and who attended a New England finishing school, yet she proves to be tougher, more determined and more sharp-minded than any around her, including her ruthless, Princeton educated husband who is partner in the logging company. The novel describes the harsh conditions of the loggers in the mountains of North Carolina, with cutting of huge trees by hand saws, and frequent accidents causing serious injury or death to the workers. Serena and her husband let nothing stand in the way of their expanding ambitions, including murder and complete disregard of safety for any of their workers.
When rattlesnakes are taking a toll on the loggers, Serena imports and trains a Mongolian eagle, which hunts and kills the snakes. Serena patrols the logging areas on her white Arabian mare which the eagle perched on her forearm, directing the crews and releasing the eagle on its deadly hunting missions. The image is a woman in supreme command of the terrain and of the men who serve her company, directing not only the operation, but also the strategy of expanding their logging territory by acquisition or elimination of rivals.
The men acquiesce in their dangerous work, and often brutal treatment by their employer, aware that in that depression era many men are eager to take their places in the only work available.
The dialogue of the novel is often in the dialect of that region at that time, creating a sense of time and place. The writing evokes the atmosphere of that remote region through descriptions of the landscape and its vegetation, being scarred dreadfully by the relentless logging of what would eventually become national parkland. The battle between environmentalists and the loggers is a theme throughout the novel. The denouement is sudden, violent and dramatic, reflecting the character of the central figure.