4 out of 5 stars
I received an ARC of this book.
They have just found gold in California and prospectors and pioneers from all across America are packing up their lives and heading west in search of riches. Leah is content to stay at home with her parents, despite their poverty, but when they are murdered she looks to the gold in California to provide her with a future. Since she has the unique ability to sense gold, it is an opportunity not to be missed. Now all she has to do is make it to California alive. At least she has her best friend Jefferson and her pony with her.
This reads a lot like a historical fiction novel. The fantasy premise: Leah being able to sense gold, does not influence the book as much as I thought it would. Leah has to keep it a secret, so not many of the other characters know about it and she does not use it very often. Most of the book is Leah and Jefferson struggling across the country and fighting against the perils that the early pioneers faced, like finding clean water and keeping oxen healthy. I suspect her powers will be more featured in the rest of the series.
Leah and Jefferson are both strong characters and have a great friendship that does not immediately devolve into romance. They respect and care for each other and discuss something other than feelings. They both grow a lot during the course of the narrative. Jefferson, on the run from an abusive father, finds himself turning from a scared boy into a responsible man who can be depended on. Leah must disguise herself as a boy, so she has to work through her identity issues as she must spend all of her time hiding important information about who she really is. Both Jefferson and Leah must learn how to take crap about who they are (part First Nations and a woman respectively) without falling apart.
The story really emphasizes both the good and bad in humanity as Leah faces thieves and murderers, but also kind hearted and giving folks. It is depressing at times, quite a few people die, but it is probably more accurate because of that. Early travel across America was not safe and sanitary and this work is true to that.
This is a great read for everyone who really enjoyed Patricia C Wrede’s Frontier Magic series. You have the same fantasy/ pioneer america mix and strong characters who are growing into themselves. Also good for those readers who grew up on Laura Ingles Wilder and want the same sort of adventure, just a little more grown up and with a little more magic.