In the tradition of his Cold Mountain, Frazier again recaptures the land he knows so well, this time in the person of twelve-year-old Will Cooper, who is sold in bondage by his parents for seven years as a shopkeeper. Will travels reluctantly from his home, unsure of the future, his destination a small Indian trading post in the uncharted wilds of the Cherokee Nation.
After many mishaps, Will reaches the trading post and remains there for the next few years. With only the occasional trader, Will forms a close bond with Bear, a Cherokee Chief who remains a confidant and father figure until his death. Bear imparts the ways of the Nation, their beliefs and traditions, and the youngster warms to these people who have tolerated if not completely embraced him.
Another significant figure in Will’s life is Featherstone, a “white” Indian who has greedily claimed land, building a fortune while indulging in the wild ways of the uncivilized when it suits him and the manners of the gentleman farmer when required.
Will meets Featherstone on his original journey to the Nation in a somewhat bloody encounter that leaves the boy the worse for wear; but it is as a result of this experience that Cooper is introduced to Claire, the young beauty who will haunt all the days of his life.
Freed prematurely by the death of the bondsman, Will is prepared for the next phase of his journey, having learned the trade and studied books on the law in his isolation, inspired to parley his trade into a respectable income. While successful in material matters, Will is unable to sustain a relationship with the enigmatic Claire, his true love, although he pursues her year after year unsuccessfully.
Accruing and losing one fortune as landowner and lawyer and another through the foresight of his investments, Will never loses his desire for Claire, traveling through the next few years with her as his constant companion, if only in his imagination.
Frazier develops Will’s character from impressionable youth through a long and eventful life in which he witnesses the Removal of the Nation to the Territories, the Civil War, the advancement of the railroad, and the accomplishments of an emerging country with an unquenchable thirst for growth, the white man willing to decimate any impediment to wealth and progress.
Thirteen Moons displays a beauty bred of the intricate details of time, place and character, a recreation of one man’s life as he ages with the country, his memories etched in the pain of the Nation, Bear, and his beloved Claire. Time is suspended as Will fills notebook after notebook - years of them - with the thoughts of an impressionable boy who matures to manhood and old age, shaped by the era in which he lives and Claire, the name that haunts his dreams.