There are two good reasons to go to Gatlinburg. One is to visit Dolly Parton’s theme park. Mosher (On Kingdom Mountain, 2007, etc.) limns the other in this expertly written novel.
Longtime readers of Mosher will not be surprised to find that his latest opens on ground well trod in other novels: the mountain country of northern Vermont, and specifically Kingdom Mountain, his Yoknapatawpha County. Morgan Kinneson is an exceedingly bright 17-year-old who has spent his young life exploring every corner of the mountain, becoming so knowledgeable about the place that he and his older brother Pilgrim had brought the pioneering naturalist Louis Agassiz “to the mountaintop to examine the glacial erratics, boulders brought down from the Far North by the great ice sheet.” Things have changed now, for Pilgrim, who had been packed off to college, has joined the Union Army and has now gone missing at the Battle of Gettysburg. Helping a runaway slave make his way north to Canada, Morgan is attacked by mysterious renegades—or are they rebel spies?—who want something of the fugitive’s. That something (readers of On Kingdom Mountain might just have a clue as to what it is), and perhaps a curse on his “yallow head” by one of his fallen tormentors, puts Morgan on a run that takes him to the still-fresh battlefield, down the back of the mountains and deep into the Confederacy in search of his missing brother. Morgan battles illness and attendant hallucinations, enjoys a “peaceful interlude in the heart of the land of the Brethren,” spends time in the rebel capital, falls in love and otherwise has grand adventures that would seem improbable in lesser hands. And if a long walk through the Civil War–era South seems familiar, consider the author of the echoing book one of those lesser hands by comparison with Mosher, who closes with a grand unexpected moment that, on reflection, makes perfect sense.
We are in the hands of a skilled storyteller, and every word matters. A captivating story, and one that cries for a sequel.