Genres: Fantasy & Magic, Historical, Young Adult
Series: Gold Seer Trilogy, #1
Published by Greenwillow Books, Harper Collins on 9/22/2015
Also by this author: Crown of Embers
Deep in the north Georgian mountains in the gold rush city of Dahlonega, Leah Westfall lives with her parents, her father a fairly infamous miner nicknamed "Lucky" who has a chronic illness and her mother a city-born gal from Boston. Lee is the reason her father is lucky because she can sense gold. When rumors abound about gold in California, Lee's best friend Jefferson decides to set out to the West and he asks Lee to go with him, but she refuses due to her family. However, a few days later, she discovers her family murdered and her Uncle Hiram comes to town, with Lee believing he knows of her gold sense and plans to use her. Secretly she plots to run away to find Jeff as he seems to be the only person she can trust. With the help of a local merchant who just happens to be a free black man, Lee disguises herself as a boy and travels northwest with her horse Peony intending to meet up with Jeff in Independence, Missouri. While on the road, she is set upon by bandits and robbed, managing to escape and at least keep her horse. Desperate for food and funds, not to mention fearful that Uncle Hiram is close behind her, she signs onto a wagon train in Chattanooga and manages to make her way to Independence where she hopes Jeff awaits to escape to California.
This adventure is a blend of old Western and just a hint of magic (or rather a super-human ability much like our beloved superheroes), but Rae Carson writes just as magnificently with a little element of fantasy as she did in a fully imagined fantasy world like The Girl of Fire and Thorns series. I love the references to local history, especially that of the gold rushes in Georgia and North Carolina, like the note that there once was a gold mint in Dahlonega, GA, (marked with the “D” that Denver now uses). Carson recreates the sense of rural Southern life with deep spirituality, the distrust yet charitable feeling given to strangers, the dangers of the culture especially for women and black folk, and the spirit of the wagon train traveling the Oregon Trail.
Leah/Lee is a wonderful character. She’s fiercely independent as she’s been providing for her ailing family, but she’s also possessed of a strong-will and determination that gives her the fortitude to withstand her parents’ murders, masquerade as a boy, and then in the face of hardship travel on her own with little resources all the way across the country. For much of the novel, Lee must rely on herself to get to safety. After she is robbed, she signs on to be a boat hand on a flatboat ferrying people down the Tennessee River through waterways all the way across to the Mississippi. The boat is hired by the Joyner family, and when they reach Missouri, Lee accompanies the Joyners a-ways but is cast out as being a runaway to make her own way to Independence. There, she sees a few familiar faces, and after a few days of not finding Jefferson, Mr. Joyner hires her to manage his wagon and cattle as he only has one other hand. Luckily for Lee, his hired hand is none other than the fellow she’s been searching for, her best friend Jefferson McCauley. Together with their wagon train of families, a group of college men, and a group with a large number of livestock, they must travel through the wilderness to make it to California, fighting dangerous illness, mutiny, and other dangers.
I think you’ll be surprised how things change for Lee and how, despite being a girl and the cultural attitude towards women, she shows courage, leadership, and responsibility beyond her years and the expectations of those around her. Truly, she’s an inspiring role model of a heroine while still staying true to the historical detail. If you liked the Oregon Trail game and adventures, you’ll like this book, and stay tuned for book two, Like a River Glorious, as more magic, adventure, and high stakes follow Lee and Jefferson in California.
To read the first three chapters, click here to go to EpicReads. Just for fun, you can also try the name generator for Walk on Earth a Stranger! (For kicks, mine is Jefferson “Crazy” Digger. What’s yours?)