This gold rush novel is intriguing in its explorations of human greed.
Philip Atlas Clausen’s The Gold Hunter employs the California gold rush as a backdrop for this morality tale of greed and corruption that often wanders into mystical territory.
In the wild horizons of the California gold rush, Petr Valory discovers a hidden underground lake filled with gold beyond anyone’s imaginings. The adopted son of a tree cutter, Petr’s head is filled with all the things he can do for his father, mother, and little sister, and with the best of intentions, he takes some of the gold for his own.
However, he comes to realize that he must reckon with the villainous Dain King, a Viking-obsessed man in charge of the nearby settlement, Gold Nation. King entertains dreams of wiping out the “Indians” and outlasting the United States in its oncoming civil war so that he can establish his own society based on Viking ideals. When Petr’s sister, Annabel, goes missing, a chain of events is set off that will draw Petr deep into a tangled web of conspiracies and violence, in which he struggles with the fragility of human life.
The novel is written in a readable, if occasionally inconsistent and adjective-heavy, style. Chapters are divided further into subchapters, sometimes unnecessarily; breaks occur even without a change in character perspective or the passage of a significant amount of time.
The more mystical elements—ideas about reincarnation, dreams, and gods from various mythological traditions competing against each other—have a tendency to hinder the narrative by introducing more questions regarding the metaphysical mechanics of the novel’s setting than they answer. The sections set within the mysterious Gold Lake cave are at times rendered with interesting details yet are paradoxically disorienting and lack qualities that anchor them in the world outside.
Dain King as a villain is particularly well drawn, though his fixation on the barbaric aspects of the Vikings can be excessive, especially when he executes one of his own followers in a gruesome manner. Annabel is an eight-year-old girl who acts far too adult for her age, and an odd connection between her and Petr—they were lovers in a former life—grows increasingly uncomfortable, considering that Petr is sixteen. Big Jack, a Scotsman prospector friendly with the Valory family, is a mite too stereotypically Scottish, complete with bagpipes and a Scottish brogue that is shakily transcribed.
The Gold Hunter is intriguing in its explorations of human greed.
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