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A novel of the California gold rush. An Iowa farmer and a soldier set out on separate but converging paths to find fortune. The farmer needs money to get himself and his wife away from his domineering father, the soldier needs money to earn the hand of a wealthy Spanish woman whose family hates Yankees.… (more)

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True gold can be found in the love of a good woman.

That, in a nutshell, summarizes "Sierra," Richard S. Wheeler's entertaining 1996 novel about the California gold rush, which follows the trail of two men to the gold fields in the late 1840s.

Stephen Jarvis actually arrives at Sutter's Mill before the discovery of gold. He's a Mexican War veteran looking for his future when he spies a beautiful Californio girl. Although he and Rita cannot speak the same language, each is smitten with the other. He determines to makes a success of himself, then return to ask for Rita's hand. He finds enough gold to establish a business supplying goods to other miners and soon accumulates more wealth than all but a few of the gold seekers. Then he learns Rita has been forced to marry another man.

Ulysses McQueen already has a pregnant wife, Susannah, and a farm in Iowa when he gets gold fever. He leaves both his farm and Susannah in the care of his father and brothers, then heads for California with dreams of riches. He arrives after the richest gold strikes have already been made, and he struggles to make enough money just to survive. He has failed to write a letter to Susannah all this time, not wanting to write until he has good news to tell her. Meanwhile, impatient with not hearing any news about Ulysses, Susannah, with her baby, takes off to California to find him.

Wheeler specializes in the non-traditional western. That is, he writes more about the West as it really was than about gunfighters and train robbers. This may be why his books can be so hard to find, at least east of the Mississippi. I did find a few last week in a wonderful little bookstore in Jackson, Wyo. To me, that seemed like true gold. ( )
  hardlyhardy | Oct 9, 2013 |
Okay, a bit away from my usual genre. This book was a western about the California Gold Rush of 1848-51.

It is basically two story lines, with two different protagonists that cover different periods of time that you hope will eventually meet up. I really liked one of the two protagonists, Ulysses McQueen. He left his family, wife and unborn child at the age of 20 to strike it rich in the goldfields. The books starts out on him and spends a lot of time on his journey to the goldfields and his struggles along the way. Then suddenly, a scene depicts him nearing the goldfields and the next scene, he has been there for 5 months. I was highly disappointed at this jump in time. After his huge struggle to get there, I was looking forward to the scene where he actually ARRIVED! Sure, his excitement would be shortlived, but I was looking forward to that first rush of excitement upon finally just GETTING THERE. And I was gypped.

The second character, I didn’t like that much. Everything came way too easily for him.

But you know when an author has two protagonists weaving different tales, the whole point is that they will meet up and each will effect the other in a profound way. Well, when these two finally met, it was a one-way relationship. The one I didn’t like helped McQueen but it was in a very unpersonal way. There was nothing that Ulysses gave to the other character. That was a gyp also.

Lastly, the way the two characters’ lives were written, the scenes ended up not being in chronological order. Since I assume the author wanted to start the book with Ulysses, we see him leaving home in 1849. Then the next scene with Stephen Jarvis moves us backwards to 1848. Then we go back to 1849, back to 1848, then up to 1850, back and forward again until these two protagonists meet in time in California. That was very confusing.

Like I said, I really liked the story of Ulysses McQueen but I didn’t care for the storyline involving the second protagonist, Stephen Jarvis. In the end, that whole second storyline was only there so that someone could rescue Ulysses in the end. But if that is all Jarvis was there for, his storyline need not have delved into so much detail.

Still not a bad book. As I said, I really liked the storyline of McQueen. And the descriptions and trials and tribulations of getting to the goldfields, and when his wife finally takes off after him, all that was brilliant.

On a scale of 1 to 10, I’d have to give it an overall rating of 6 (the downside being the whole Jarvis plotline and the back & forth thing with the timeline)!!
  krysteria | Apr 15, 2008 |
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A novel of the California gold rush. An Iowa farmer and a soldier set out on separate but converging paths to find fortune. The farmer needs money to get himself and his wife away from his domineering father, the soldier needs money to earn the hand of a wealthy Spanish woman whose family hates Yankees.

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