Genre: YA, Historical, Fantasy
Publisher: Greenwillow on September 27, 2016
My thanks to the publisher for providing me with a digital review copy. No compensation was provided for this review, and all opinions are my own.
After a harrowing journey across the country, Leah Westfall and her friends have finally arrived in California and are ready to make their fortunes in the Gold Rush. View Spoiler »Lee has a special advantage over the other new arrivals in California—she has the ability to sense gold, a secret known only by her handsome best friend Jefferson and her murdering uncle Hiram.
Lee and her friends have the chance to be the most prosperous settlers in California, but Hiram hasn’t given up trying to control Lee and her power. Sabotage and kidnapping are the least of what he’ll do to make sure Lee is his own. His mine is the deepest and darkest in the territory, and there Lee learns the full extent of her magical gift, the worst of her uncle, and the true strength of her friendships. To save everyone, she vows to destroy her uncle and the empire he is building—even at the cost of her own freedom. « Hide Spoiler
LIKE A RIVER GLORIOUS was one of my most anticipated releases for 2016 so it obviously had a lot to live up to – thankfully, I enjoyed it almost as much as its predecessor. There’s no second book slump here!
After the seemingly endless journey of the first book, Lee, her best friend Jefferson, and the rest of the gang have finally set down roots in California. Using her gold sense, the “witchy” ability that enables her to find and call gold, Lee ensures that she and they’ll have plenty of gold to live good lives in the West. Seeing everyone come together to build a camp and support each other was heartwarming, and honestly it was a welcome relief from the ceaseless struggle of WALK ON EARTH A STRANGER. Lee has come full circle, losing her family and her home just to find a new family and a new place of her own. Of course, that can’t last forever….
Everyone knows you can’t keep a bad guy down, so it’s not exactly a surprise to Lee when her villainous Uncle Hiram comes to call. He wants Lee – and her gold sense – and what Hiram Westfall wants, he gets. Against her will, Lee uses her powers to help Hiram’s mining efforts along and witnesses first hand the abysmal working conditions faced by miners during the Gold Rush. Rae Carson does an excellent job describing the abuse suffered by the Native American and Chinese labourers forced to work in the mines, a grim reality that grounded LIKE A RIVER GLORIOUS and kept it from seeming too outlandish.
Lee’s gradual awareness of her position of comparative privilege is unusually subtle for YA, and I found myself happily accepting her occasionally anachronistic perspective on human rights since it came in the wake of her witnessing horrible atrocities. Sure, the average 19th century young, white American woman probably wasn’t as empathetic and forward thinking as Lee, but these qualities make her a likeable protagonist so I don’t really care.
Carson also does a fantastic job fleshing out Lee’s Uncle Hiram in LIKE A RIVER GLORIOUS, which I really appreciated because I thought his villainy sort of came out of left field in the series opener. Clearly there’s a lot more motivating him than we were initially led to believe, because Hiram has a seriously creepy fixation with Lee’s mom and Lee herself. The way he would treat Lee like a doll one moment and then strike her across the face in the next made it impossible to predict what he’d do. His erratic behaviour really contributed to an atmosphere of suspense and created a lot of tension while I was reading. Plus I mean…how creepy was the reproduction of Lee’s mom’s old dress? * shudders *
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the truly adorable relationship between Lee and Jefferson. They will they, won’t they aspect of their relationship is sweet rather than annoying, since we all know how things will ultimately play out. Lee’s repeated refusals to rush into anything were very in character and felt realistic, too. Jeff is a sweetie, definitely a good model of a romantic partner (unlike some dudes in YA fantasy novels who shall go unnamed).
Overall I loved LIKE A RIVER GLORIOUS, although I will say that in terms of form this book was a little too similar to the first for my tastes (i.e. escaping from one place to another to escape Hiram). That said, I’m very excited about the direction of the trilogy and I can’t wait to see what’s in store for Lee, Jefferson, and co. in the final book!