Robbing the Pillars
It’s a safe assumption that people reach adulthood having at least heard of the California Gold Rush, at the very least from history classes that we may or may not fully pay attention to. Gold was discovered in California, helping to spur the westward expansion of America over the Mississippi and the Rockies, there’s some talk about Manifest Destiny, and then the class moves on to the Civil War.
But how many of us get an in-depth look at life during the Gold Rush? How many can say what things were like for the average man and his family moving west, let alone for the immigrants our teachers might tell us bits and pieces about? How many of us can tie in the Gold Rush with the rest of American history, aside from remembering that it had something to do with 1849? For me, the Gold Rush was pretty abstract until I read Robbing the Pillars.
In 1840, Scotland, James MacLaren kills a man and must flee. He makes his way to America where the story picks up a few years later as he travels west in the company of his wife, Emma; their daughter, Charlotte; a friend of Emma’s, Althea; and Althea’s son, Justin. The little group has formed a makeshift family, and together they intend to make a life for themselves in a mining town. Their lives won’t be easy, but they will be their own, and that makes all the struggle worth it for James.
In telling the story of James’s life, Johnson not only gives us a fascinating portrait of a man determined to carve out a life for himself despite every obstacle, but she also presents a richly detailed vision of part of America’s past. The characters in the novel aren’t merely historical figures who move stiffly across the pages; they are living, breathing people filled with joy, hope, and despair. Through Robbing the Pillars, we see Charlotte and Justin grow from childhood to adolescence, and we see the unwinding of political machinations that threaten the strange little family I grew so fond of over the course of the book. This is the first in a series, and I can’t wait to see where the next book goes.
Kalen Vaughan Johnson
Five Star Publishing