Aiden’s story takes up where it left off in The Devil’s Paintbox (2009), with Aiden heading toward Seattle as he leaves the Northwest lumber country in the late 1860s.
Nearly a man at 16, his journey becomes inextricably woven into those of two other young men. They are as unlike Aiden as they are each other, yet all want to make their fortunes. Fish is the son of a Swedish captain plying the coastal waters between Seattle and San Francisco, and Christopher Worthington, wealthy and bored, is the son of an influential financier. Together, they embark on a scheme to import guano from Peruvian mines, which involves them in a tangle of ethical quandaries that arise naturally from realistically depicted 19th-century conditions. As capable as he is impetuous, Aiden’s essential goodness is never in doubt, but he does wrong, gradually learning to take responsibility for his actions and choices; he must struggle with his own prejudices and rise above them. The powerful narrative asks Aiden and readers to consider what may constitute slavery without actually using that label and the consequences of exploiting that servitude. A hint of romance blossoms into much more without detracting from these serious questions or slackening the brisk pace.
Aiden’s dilemmas are rooted in the time and yet move beyond it, creating a glimpse into the past that is relevant today. (Historical fiction. 12 & up)