Series: The Gold Seer Trilogy #1
Published by Greenwillow Books on September 22nd 2015
Genres: Historical Fiction, Young Adult
Gold is in my blood, in my breath, even in the flecks in my eyes.
Lee Westfall has a strong, loving family. She has a home she loves and a loyal steed. She has a best friend—who might want to be something more.
She also has a secret.
Lee can sense gold in the world around her. Veins deep in the earth. Small nuggets in a stream. Even gold dust caught underneath a fingernail. She has kept her family safe and able to buy provisions, even through the harshest winters. But what would someone do to control a girl with that kind of power? A person might murder for it.
When everything Lee holds dear is ripped away, she flees west to California—where gold has just been discovered. Perhaps this will be the one place a magical girl can be herself. If she survives the journey.
The acclaimed Rae Carson begins a sweeping new trilogy set in Gold Rush-era America, about a young woman with a powerful and dangerous gift.
After having read and loved Rae Carson’s The Girl of Fire and Thorns trilogy, Walk on Earth a Stranger quickly became one of my most anticipated releases of the year. And in many ways this book didn’t disappoint – it contained many of the things I loved about Rae Carson the first time around, however, I just didn’t love it as much. I’m clearly in the minority here since it seems that many readers actually preferred this book to The Girl of Fire and Thorns, but for me, the latter was just more complex, more fascinating and I felt much more attached to the characters. Also, I was a lot less bored while reading it.
Walk on Earth a Stranger has a rare setting for a YA novel: the 19th century California Gold Rush. An interesting period to write about and Rae Carson did a commendable job portraying the time authentically. The novel is historical fiction with a little bit of paranormal thrown in; don’t go into it expecting a fantasy novel.
The story starts when Leah Westfall decides to run away from home to California because she believes that her new guardian is responsible for her parents’ death. But because society is what it is, Leah has to disguise herself as a boy. She follows the path that she hopes her best friend Jefferson took a few weeks earlier and hopes to meet him on the journey there. What nobody knows – not even Jefferson – is that Leah has a secret, a secret that may prove deadly under the circumstances: she can sense the presence of gold. A girl with this ability during the Gold Rush era? There are bound to be many conflicts.
Before I get into the things that I did enjoy about the novel, let me tell you why I only rated it 3 stars. The main reason was the plot. I’ve started to realize that I’m not very fond of journey stories. The kind where a major event happens at the beginning to set the story in motion, and the rest is basically just a description of how the characters manage to get from point A to point B. After the initial starting point – which drew me into the story immediately – things started to slow down considerably. There is little plot and the story is very stop-and-go. Leah travels, there is trouble, more traveling, more trouble. The issues she encounters are realistic and depict an accurate and vivid picture of what it was like to journey through America at the time, however, it became repetitive and predictable early on and I started loosing interest around the 40% mark. To me, it feels like this story was unnecessarily stretched out into a series and should have been more compact. It didn’t help that Leah’s magical ability had very little presence in the story.
Undoubtedly, Rae Carson has the ability to create realistic and likable characters. I never found Leah to be annoying or whiny, instead she is a strong, brave and determined. Even better, she goes through considerable character development throughout the novel. She wants to be seen as an equal, not someone in need of rescue. Leah also doesn’t judge other women. Rae Carson is the queen of female friendships in YA literature: the females aren’t torn apart by jealousy or unnecessary misunderstandings.
Despite all these positives however, I could never truly connect with Leah. I liked her, but she just wasn’t interesting or memorable enough to compensate for the lack of plot. Similarly, I thought the slow-burn romance was realistic but I never felt the spark. They lacked chemistry and it was hard for me to see them as more than friends.
Something I did enjoy, was how the author explored many of the social issues of the time. Sexism, homosexuality, discrimination against the Native Americans, xenophobia…all of these topics are touched upon, yet it never became overbearing.
Ultimately, I did really like many aspects of this book, but they weren’t enough to make me engaged in the story. For me, this was a book that was trying to be more plot-driven than character-driven, but it never hooked me and consequently it didn’t realise its full potential on either account. It didn’t leave me feeling satisfied.
I do think this book is a promising start to the series and if the reviews for the sequel are positive I will pick up the next one. And if not, I’m still very excited for any future books Rae Carson writes.