Character Spotlight ~ Lori Benton’s Willa, Neil, & Joseph

Burning Sky

Meet a captive, a botanist, and a brave in

Lori Benton’s

historical novel

Burning Sky

Waterbrook Press

The Story

Abducted by Mohawk Indians at fourteen and renamed Burning Sky, Willa Obenchain is driven to return to her family’s New York frontier homestead after many years building a life with the People. At the boundary of her father’s property, Willa discovers a wounded Scotsman lying in her path. Feeling obliged to nurse his injuries, the two quickly find much has changed during her twelve-year absence—her childhood home is in disrepair, her missing parents are rumored to be Tories, and the young Richard Waring she once admired is now grown into a man twisted by the horrors of war and claiming ownership of the Obenchain land.
When her Mohawk brother arrives and questions her place in the white world, the cultural divide blurs Willa’s vision. Can she follow Tames-His-Horse back to the People now that she is no longer Burning Sky? And what about Neil MacGregor, the kind and loyal botanist who does not fit into in her plan for a solitary life, yet is now helping her revive her farm? In the aftermath of the Revolutionary War, strong feelings against “savages” abound in the nearby village of Shiloh, leaving Willa’s safety unsure.
Willa is a woman caught between two worlds. As tensions rise, challenging her shielded heart, the woman called Burning Sky must find a new courage–the courage to again risk embracing the blessings the Almighty wants to bestow. Is she brave enough to love again?

Enjoy meeting Willa, Neil, & Joseph

Willa Obenchain

Brief physical description

Willa Obenchain is nearly six feet tall in her stockings. She’s slender but strong. Her hair is wavy, a light warm brown (the color of oak leaves in winter). Her eyes don’t match. One is the same shade as her hair, the other hazel/green (similar to actress Jane Seymour’s eyes). She has a strong-boned and forbidding Willa2face, until she smiles.


This is a morph of several faces I created. Aside from the image on the book’s cover (which is really spot on) this is the nearest I’ve come to finding Willa.

Strengths and weaknesses

Willa is a woman of great determination. She’s forthright, nurturing, and courageous. Each of these qualities can be her weaknesses as well. She can be stubborn. She can be too blunt. She is terrified of loving because it might lead to grief. Courage wins her enemies as well as friends.

Your inspiration for the character

Willa Obenchain was inspired by the many stories of Indian captivity I’ve read, but she first came to me in a vision of an old woman living alone in a ramshackle cabin in a clearing surrounded by foothills. Then along came another vision of a young woman, tall and strong, striding over mountains with a basket on her back. I realized they were the same woman, and that that first vision would be the young woman’s destiny, if something, or someone, didn’t intervene.

Neil MacGregor

Brief physical description

Neil MacGregor is six feet tall, with curly dark brown hair and vivid blue eyes. He’s lean but muscular of build. He’s more science geek than warrior, but his christopher-gorhamsense of honor and his kindness lends him bravery when it matters.


I can think of three actors who all embody something of Neil MacGregor.

Brendan Hines, Ioan Gruffudd, and Christopher Gorham. If forced to pick just one of these, I’d pick Christopher Gorham as closest.

Strengths and weaknesses

Neil MacGregor’s most obvious weakness is his disability resulting from head trauma. Today he’d be diagnosed with dyslexia, complicated with severe migraines. But the reverse of this coin is his strength: his rock solid faith in God’s ability to make a way for him to fulfil his calling when he can’t (sometimes literally) see a way.

Your inspiration for the character

I find the history of Scotland fascinating. It was appealing to me (and believable based on my research) that a Scottish physician-turned-botanist would be exploring the New York frontier for the American Philosophical Society, searching for plants to put in a field guide while the rest of the populace was simply trying to pick up the pieces of their broken lives. I find the history of Clan MacGregor especially compelling. While a brief history of the clan Neil shared with Willa didn’t make the final edit of Burning Sky, I hope one day to share that scene off the cutting room floor with readers.

Joseph Tames-His-Horse

Brief physical description

Joseph Tames-His-Horse is a Mohawk warrior descended from those of his nation who, through the influence of French missionaries, left their kin in the Mohawk Valley in the late 1600s and settled in Canada, mainly along the St. Lawrence River and its tributaries. He is well over six feet tall, very imposing, with Joseph Tame-His-Horseblack hair to his shoulders and deep brown eyes.


There’s something of a young Eric Schweig in Joseph, as well as Michael Greyeyes.

Strengths and weaknesses

Joseph is a man of honour who takes his responsibilities to his clan and kin seriously. He is loyal and protective to those he feels it is his right to take care of, sometimes stubbornly so. It’s hard to turn him aside once he’s set a course, and he often makes those who care about him worry.

Your inspiration for the character

I knew early in the story-weaving process that I wanted someone from Willa’s years with the Mohawks to be a vital part of the present story. Joseph very quickly evolved from that need, and my research helped inform his character and his story situation.

Background to the story

After researching the 18th century for several years, I knew I wanted to tell a story set on the New York frontier, around the time of the Revolutionary War. I’d learned how devastating that conflict was to this region for European settlers and for the Iroquois, whose land it still largely was before that war. Then a character showed up (Willa Obenchain). As I mentally circled her over a span of months I sorted out who she was, what she was doing on the New York frontier, and exactly when her story took place—during the mid 1780s when those who had fled their frontier homes during the war were gradually returning to reclaim their lives. Then I threw Neil MacGregor into her path, and sent Joseph Tames-His-Horse after her, and we were off!

Thank you, Lori!

Relz Reviewz Extras
Review of Burning Sky
Visit Lori’s website
Buy Burning Sky from Amazon or Koorong

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7 Responses to Character Spotlight ~ Lori Benton’s Willa, Neil, & Joseph

  1. I loved Burning Sky as well! Such a fantastic story.
    Great picks. I like the morph picture. The cover model was very close to how I pictured as well.

    • Thank you Kate! I may have cried a little, when I first saw Willa on that cover. I DID dance around the room for a bit. :)

    • Kate » Isn’t is a gorgeous story, Kate? I adored it. I’m not normally a fan of the love triangle – in fact it drives me nuts – but Lori did such a beautiful job of it, with such in-depth characters, it didn’t bother me one bit in this story.

  2. Dear Rel, thanks so much for inviting Willa, Neil, and Joseph into the spotlight today!

  3. This is one of the best books I’ve read all year. I’m very picky with good books! Have recommended it to many friends. Can’t wait to buy her next one.

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