I got this book as part of a buy 1 get 1 of a certain selection of titles free deal. If I’m honest, I was attracted to the cover. That girl in that gorgeous red dress drew me in, and the synopsis seemed interested enough, so I went for it!
Author: Apparently Lesley Pearce is one of the UK’s best-loved authors. Well, I’m from the UK and I’d never heard of her before I got this book. It could be that she’s best-loved by a different generation; that would not surprise me. She’s got a large number of published works under her belt. She writes in British English.
Presentation: Paperback. About average size but quite thick as it is rather long at 516 pages. There are 37 chapters of roughly the same length.
Story: when 15-year-old Beth’s father commits suicide she finds her life turned upside down. Her older brother, Sam, is not yet skilled enough in the family trade to take over the business, leaving the family with very little income. Her mother turns out to be pregnant with her lover’s baby (the father’s suicide was so that the mother and her lover could be together but the lover high-tailed it). Unfortunately, the birth is not an easy one and their mother dies soon after, burdening her children with a new-born and her dark secrets. Tragedy after tragedy strikes the brother and sister, and eventually they find themselves giving their younger sister, Molly, to adoptive parents and they set out for a new life in the New World. Sam is convinced that he will be able to make his fortune in America, but the duo get off to a bumpy start with Beth paving the way because of her skill playing the fiddle. After some more tragic events, Beth, Sam, Theo (an upper-class gambling man whom Beth is in love with) and Jack (from the lowest classes in London, but knowledgeable and in love with Beth) find themselves moving from city to city, always looking for a new home. Eventually they hear tell of a new gold strike up in Alaska. But the way there is fraught with dangers and they must survive a demanding trek through the Alaskan mountains and a dangerous trip down the floodwater rivers. Despite this, Theo and Sam are convinced that they can make their fortune in this new gold rush town. But who can Beth really trust? Is her heart safe in Theo’s hands? Is Sam living with his head in the clouds? Will Jack be able to keep her safe?
Thoughts and impressions: Unfortunately, the story didn’t really live up to the prettiness of the cover. It was good, don’t get me wrong, but I think that the scope was far too large.
The pace was a bit all over the place. Sometimes we’d get stuck in the endless drivel of some character’s thoughts that seemed to go on and on forever. At other times the really important points were just rushed through. *mini spoiler* At one point in the story, Beth ends up pregnant. But between the reader learning that she’s pregnant and an accident that causes the loss of the baby, about a month and the event and its aftermath all flick by in the space of about ten pages. And we're not really given the chance to feel what Beth is feeling about it, to feel what Jack is feeling about discovering that she'd been pregnant and hadn't told him and that she's now in hospital, to feel what Theo is feeling about having lost the child he didn't even know was coming, to feel Sam's dispair at almost losing his sister... As such, I found I was unable to feel Beth’s, or anyone else's, loss. I was unable to even feel sympathy for her.
I was never really affected by any of the story’s big tragedies because the narrative doesn’t dwell on them for long enough to make these events as shattering for me as they are for the characters. I feel rather disappointed by this, as had the characters been brought closer to me, I think that this would have been an excellent read. Maybe it should have been split into a two book mini-series. That would have allowed the author to make all her comments on society, but also bring us closer to Beth. As it is, the book takes place over about 8 or 9 years crammed into 500 pages and it’s just too much. Things whizz past before you even have the time to realise they’re happening and I didn’t like that.
It must be said that the author obviously did a lot of research for this book. She even went up to Alaska and walked the trail that the characters would be walking in the book. Her passion for history can be seen in every page, it is very clear and I liked that I learnt little bits from the book.
The author set up a foundation for ‘strong women’, or something of the sort, and she writes books about such women. I just wish she’d given Beth the strength to give Theo the boot rather than putting up with all the horrible stuff her puts her through.
Style: The author is a storyteller and not a weaver of the craft. The style often tells rather than shows, I think to increase the speed of the narrative, to get everything in there. In all honesty, the style didn’t really appeal to me. The author sticks almost exclusively to one tense, even when she moves further back in her time of narration, using this one tense to describe ‘present’ events as well as ‘past’ ones. There’s also an overdose of the adverb ‘suddenly’. I don’t like this adverb being used in literature as it shows the author’s opinion and not the narrator’s.
Final verdict: I’m torn. I really wanted to like this book and I think that in the hands of an author with a different style this could well have become one of my favourite books. As it is, I enjoyed it but I didn’t overly like it. 3 stars (lower end of the spectrum)
Extra notes: Sex happens, though it is not described in great detail. Some minor language if memory serves, but it didn’t stick out for me so there probably wasn’t that much of it. Aimed at adults more than young adults.