22 September 2015

Walk on Earth a Stranger by Rae Carson (The Gold Seer Trilogy #1)

Summary from Goodreads:
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.

YA series are the worst series to start when only partially finished.  The best ones leave you salivating for more and the first book in Rae Carson's new trilogy, The Gold Seer, is no exception.

So...hands up, who played Oregon Trail on a PC in the 1990s, 8-bit graphics and all?  And died, a lot?  Seriously, I never ONCE made it to Oregon. I always caught cholera or got bit by a rattlesnake or the oxen died or I ran out of water....clearly, I would never survive in IRL wilderness let alone a 19th century wagon train.

The heroine of Walk on Earth a Stranger, Leah, must disguise herself as Lee-the-boy to escape her nefarious uncle (not a spoiler) and join a wagon train headed to Gold Rush-era California.  With her best friend, Jefferson McCauley, of course.  Leah must also protect her gold-sensing ability - she's like a dowser but instead of divining water, she can divine specks of gold dust.  The route from her small town in Georgia to the gold fields of California is hard and dangerous.  There are thieves (maybe one of them was sent to find her), disease, starvation, bad water, racist jerks, and a Micawber of-sorts but far less good-hearted than the real Micawber (those of you who've read Dickens's David Copperfield, I'll let you work that one out).  But Lee grows from a fifteen-year-old girl running for her life into a competent, strong woman through her journey.

Walk on Earth a Stranger is a change from Carson's previous trilogy, Girl of Fire and Thorns.  Those books were straight-up fantasy based around the premise of god-chosen individuals in a medieval Spanish-like setting who are expected to perform miracles; the heroine, Elisa, must save her adopted country from usurping dictators and balance the flow of magic and religion between two races and religions.  Walk on Earth a Stranger could remain a solid historical fiction series with the exception of Lee's gold-divining ability.  The historical research is A-plus without bashing the reader over the head with obvious details.  The secondary characters are memorable and diverse.  Carson allows real events like menstruation and childbirth to happen in real time as perfectly normal things (this is important - real girls get periods and real women worried about dying in childbirth so the fact that these are presented as issues one might run into while disguised as a boy or travelling as a woman in a wagon train to California is a way to firmly root characters in reality.  Side note: Lee isn't the pregnant one, before y'all start freaking out).

I loved the heck out of this book.  Walk on Earth a Stranger is well-plotted, perfectly paced to keep you reading, and formed around a kick-ass young woman who learns to be an adult in one of the harshest environments imaginable.  This first book in the Gold Seer Trilogy wraps up nicely, but I really hope we don't have long to wait for the second and then the third.

Walk on Earth a Stranger is available today, September 22, 2015, wherever books are sold.

Dear FTC: I received a DRC of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.

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