Set in Butte, Montana in 1917, Copper Sky is the debut novel of Milana Marsenich, which tells the story of two very different young women whose lives are forever intertwined.
Kaly Shane, a prostitute who has found herself pregnant, is forever scarred by the mysterious events of her childhood which impact heavily on her ability to trust. Meanwhile, Marika Lailich, fiercely determined to become a doctor, tries to avoid a pre arranged marriage she fears will end her dreams. The deep secrets unearthed throughout serve to tie them together for all time.
This novel was a bit of a slow burn for me. It was very readable, but I struggled a little with the setting, which prevented me from connecting with it immediately. I felt that the descriptions of the town and the era could have been stronger early on. Part of the issue could have been because I’m from the UK with no previous knowledge of the history of Montana and its copper mining history; but I felt a little as if I was playing catch up in the early stages. I felt however that the author became increasingly confident in her descriptions as the novel progressed, so that by the final scenes I was completely invested. The latter half of the novel by contrast contained some stunning use of language, on several occasions I had to re-read sentences on more than one occasion because the language was so beautiful and evocative. The final scenes are dealt with beautifully, describing some very difficult and emotional scenes with extreme sensitivity all without losing impact.
I felt empathy for both female protagonists; Kaly and Marika. The situations they are dealing with are completely life altering and both have very difficult choices to make. At times they frustrated me with their indecision and to-ing and fro-ing, but also in hindsight, this actually adds to the reality of the characterisation. Facing what they are facing, there are very few women, especially in that time period when women are required to be a certain way; who would feel able to make decisions for themselves. In some respects, although the characters are slightly older, this almost reads as if it were a coming of age novel. Throughout both women need to look within themselves, accept their reality and sever ties with their childhood, whether it be the demons it produced or the expectations and dreams they’ve maintained. In both cases throughout the course of the novel both women are naturally shifted to full blown womanhood.
The female perspective is very important within this novel and it is the female characters who lead the narrative. Classed as a Western, it turns the classic masculine genre on its head and gives it a fresh new feel. It is not a genre I’m particularly experienced with in any medium (most likely because it is usually testosterone heavy and filled with patriarchal overtones) but this novel I enjoyed.
After reading Copper Sky, I strongly feel that Milana Marsenich is an author to keep an eye on. Her style and use of language by the end of the novel completely sold me. I will definitely be reading her latest novel, The Swan Keeper.