The Deserter is the first book of the Alford Saga. Imagine you're in a swaying hammock on a British man-o'war around 1800, riding out a harsh spring storm in a deserted estuary. Behind those high red cliffs lie a hundred miles of uncharted wilderness, populated only by ferocious indigenous peoples. If you jump ship and are caught, you will be branded a deserter - subject to death by one thousand lashes. What can you bring to help you survive?
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Thomas Manning, branded a deserter from the British Navy, is forced to change his name to James Alford to avoid the death penalty. Determined to forge a new life on the Gaspé Peninsula, he struggles to survive the harsh landscape and win the hand of Catherine Garrett. After working in harsh sub-zero woods, he saves the life of an orphan working in a sawmill, and so gains crucial lumber to build a homestead out of intractable wilderness. But first he must battle murderous brigands to rescue a starving bull calf....
The riveting Alford Saga continues with James Alford, the Deserter, battling old age and ferocious winters, but even more crippling, the departure of his son and only heir, Young Jim, who sets out on snowshoes for Montreal, 700 miles away. Arriving at last in Montreal, Jim is driven by starvation into a back-breaking job constructing the Victoria Bridge. Jim finds lodgings with an Irish widow in Griffintown, and falls in love. After being deceived in this romance, he rejects the bitter realities of urban life and returns home.
In 1896, young rector Jack Alford is sent to the implacable, granite shores of Labrador on the vast St. Lawrence River. Hazards imperil his life as he travels this harsh 450-mile coastline by boat and dogsled, to visit his far-flung parishioners. Jack also manages to rescue a cook from the crew of a schooner to keep him company on his travels. His zeal for the welfare of Labrador's hardy parishioners diverts Jack from his romance. Through summer storms that menace his tiny mission boat and fierce blizzards that almost annihilate his dog team, Jack brings succour to stranded families....
The Prime Minister gives permission for John Alford (The Pilgrim) to board a tramp steamer crammed with a thousand young enlistees bound for adventure in the Boer War. They steam across a stormy Atlantic into a year of dusty, disease-ridden battles in South Africa - the first engagement by Canadian Forces on foreign soil.