This novel opens with a bang. Pemberton brings his new wife, Serena, home to Appalachia and his logging camp. Waiting for him as the train stops is the father of the young woman who is pregnant with Pemberton's child. The girl's father plans to kill Pemberton as his pregnant daughter watches. Things turn out differently, however. Pemberton, with the blessing of his wife Serena, duels with the father and kills him. Serena gives the daughter the knife from her father's body and tells her that she will never get any help from them for her child.
The book progresses as the couple builds a logging empire, razing the land all around them to stumps and polluting the environment. This is told in the back-drop of the Great Depression and FDR's starting up of National Parks. Naturally, the Pembertons are opposed to parks and they buy up all the land they can to log while buying off all the people they can to turn the outcomes in their favor. Those in their way, they kill or have killed. There is no compassion forthcoming from these two.
Many others die due to the horrible conditions in the logging camp. As soon as someone is injured they are fired and replaced. If they die, the next person waiting for a job gets hired. There is no compensation and certainly no compassion. Everyone is expendable to the Pembertons.
Even in love there is a visage of portending evil. Serena wants Pemberton to be satisfied in life with only her - the two of them together against the world. She describes their lovemaking as 'annihilation'. This is symbolic of the two of them needing only one another and the rest of the world being expendable if they do not fit into Serena and Pembertan's plans. Unfortunately, Serena can not produce an heir and she begins to worry whether Pemberton is secretly helping his illegitimate son and his mother.
Serena goes around on her white Arabian horse with an Eagle trained to kill rattlesnakes and other enemies. As she begins to suspect that Pemberton might have some interests that are not solely her, the balance of love and power begin to shift.
I found this a powerful book, beautifully written with wonderfully developed characterization. The sense of time and place is superb. I highly recommend this book.