Walk On Earth a Stranger, by Rae Carson

>> Tuesday, August 30, 2016

TITLE: Walk On Earth a Stranger
AUTHOR: Rae Carson

COPYRIGHT: 2015
PAGES: 448
PUBLISHER: Greenwillow Books

SETTING: 1849 US
TYPE: Fiction
SERIES: Starts Gold Seer trilogy

The first book in a new trilogy from acclaimed New York Times-bestselling author Rae Carson. A young woman with the magical ability to sense the presence of gold must flee her home, taking her on a sweeping and dangerous journey across Gold Rush era America. Walk on Earth a Stranger begins an epic saga from one of the finest writers of young adult literature.

Lee Westfall has a secret. She can sense the presence of gold in the world around her. Veins deep beneath the earth, pebbles in the river, nuggets dug up from the forest floor. The buzz of gold means warmth and life and home—until everything is ripped away by a man who wants to control her. Left with nothing, Lee disguises herself as a boy and takes to the trail across the country. Gold was discovered in California, and where else could such a magical girl find herself, find safety?

Rae Carson, author of the acclaimed Girl of Fire and Thorns series, dazzles with the first book in the Gold Seer Trilogy, introducing a strong heroine, a perilous road, a fantastical twist, and a slow-burning romance, as only she can.
I loved Carson's previous Girl of Fire and Thorns trilogy, so I picked this up as soon as it came out. Walk On Earth a Stranger is the first in a new trilogy set during the Gold Rush, which made me really happy.

Leah Westfall lives with her parents in 1849 Georgia. There used to be lots of gold in their area, but by the time the story starts, no one is finding much at all. No one but Lee, that is, but that's because she has a special ability. Leah can sense gold, and that allows her to find any nugget and tiny piece anywhere around. Over the previous years she's found enough that people would suspect if they were to take it into town to sell, so the Westfall's fortune is just hidden in their cabin.

And then tragedy strikes and Leah is left alone in the world. It appears her abilities are not a secret from her evil, greedy uncle, and he's determined to use her to find even more gold than he stole from Leah's family. Faced with that prospect, Leah decides to turn into "Lee", a boy looking for adventure, and follow the crowds to California, where it's rumoured there's plenty of gold for everyone, and someone with her abilities would be able to build a life quite easily.

Walk On Earth a Stranger tells of Lee's journey West, and Carson really doesn't sugarcoat things. Things start out well. There are loads of people going, all sorts of convoys, and everyone is well-prepared for what they know will be a difficult trip. Only they're not quite prepared for just how tough things get.

It was really interesting, particularly because I wasn't quite prepared for it, either. This is not a part of US history that I was too familiar with. I'd heard of the California gold rush and I knew the journey West was not an easy one, but no more than that. It was fascinating to see just why it was tough, and just how much so.

I also liked how Carson brings alive the people in the convoy Lee is travelling with, and their interesting interactions. It's a convoy made up of several distinct groups who didn't know each other before the trip but decided to club together at the start point to give themselves a better chance. So it's basically a small collection of tribes, and when the going gets really difficult, the tensions between working together as a group and each person choosing the welfare of their own little group and doing their own thing come to the forefront.

The only real problem with the story is the villain, Lee's uncle. Carson is pretty subtle with most of her characterisation, but not with him. He's just over-the-top evil, and in one of my least-favourite tropes, he's the sort of all-powerful villain who seems to be able to find his prey anywhere. Hmmm....

The other thing I should mention is that this book doesn't really feel like a whole story itself (although the journey sort of functions as one), but as the setup for the real story. There's a sense that the story about the girl who can sense gold is only going to start once Lee gets to California, and this book only serves to get her there, ready to start the real thing in book 2 (nothing much is made of Lee's gift here). That didn't bother me that much, although it did make the ending feel a bit anticlimactic.

Book 2 is coming in September, so if you haven't read this one and it sounds interesting to you, now might be a good time to pick it up.

MY GRADE: A B.

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