A series opener delivers a tale of gold fever and destiny in the Old West.
Like so many others, John Valory heads to the Sierra Nevada in the early 1850s because of the California Gold Rush. He brings his family, including Magya, his Russian wife; his 17-year-old son, Petr John (Magya claims that “the Valorys were so poor they couldn’t afford ink for the second ‘e’ in Petr’s name”); and his 8-year-old daughter, Annabel Rochele. But the Valorys didn’t come to pan for gold; John and his son are lumbermen, harvesting trees to construct flumes and other wooden structures for an organized group of miners led by Dain King. Two major events threaten the survival of the Valorys: a tragic family secret John and Magya share with King and Petr’s discovery of a mother lode of gold buried in a lake. Annabel follows her beloved brother to the lake and gets lost. In Petr’s tireless journey to find his sister, he discovers truths about himself and his past lives. Throughout her ordeal, Annabel also takes strength from a former life and in the transcendent love she has for Petr. In this novel, the first of four volumes, Clausen (The Black Butterfly Woman, 2013, etc.) adds elements of ancient Egyptian theology, Native American and Norse mythology, Scottish folklore, and a sprinkle of Nazi ideology to his allegorical tale. Though most of the characters are carefully fleshed out, King is a Hitler-esque villain, almost too bad to be true. The writing is muscular, rich with Native American nature symbols and vivid descriptions of the setting. Brisk pacing and multiple well-balanced plotlines keep the narrative moving despite an overreliance on foreshadowing. The mystical book is clearly well-researched and includes a trove of relevant historical facts and anecdotes. But this is not a G-rated Western: rape, murder, and torture are both alluded to and graphically depicted, and sometimes the victims are children.
An unusual gold-rush novel and atypical Western offers a hero’s journey with plenty of action and savagery incongruously spiked with a glittering vein of symbols and stories drawn from diverse myths.