YA Weekend: Like A River Glorious by Rae Carson

A review copy was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

Like A River GloriousLike A River Glorious by Rae Carson

Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Genre: Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Young Adult

Series: Book 2 of The Gold Seer Trilogy

Publisher: Greenwillow Books (September 27, 2016)

Length: 432 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

I was super excited to read this sequel to Walk on Earth a Stranger, and not least because the first book was one of my favorite Young Adult reads of last year. Knowing how rare it is for a series to strike gold twice though (pun intended) I wasn’t surprised to find that I didn’t find Like A River Glorious quite as earth-shattering as its predecessor, but it was still an excellent sequel and a fun YA fantasy western.

At the end of Walk on Earth a Stranger, a novel which takes place in the midst of the great California Gold Rush, protagonist Leah “Lee” Westfall and the survivors of her party had managed to reach their destination at last. They’d wasted no time in settling in and staking their claims, and thanks to Lee’s remarkable secret, she and her friends have done pretty well for themselves.

After careful consideration though, Lee decides to let her trusted circle in on how she’s been helping them find the best plots. The truth is that she has a mysterious magical ability to sense gold in the environment around her, and being in gold-rich California, her powers have been practically humming within her. However, Lee also wanted to come clean to her friends to warn them that being close to her may have its own dangers. Her uncle Hiram, who knows about her secret, is still hunting her and wants to use her gold sense to his advantage. He had already killed Lee’s parents, and now she’s afraid that she’s put everyone associated with her at risk too.

Lee had good reason to be worried. Despite their best efforts to remain discreet, news of Lee and her group’s success begins to spread, and it’s just a matter of time before Hiram tracks them down. Unwilling to put her friends through more pain and grief, Lee ultimately decides to take matters into her own hands and begins to plot a plan to confront her uncle.

First, the good stuff: Readers who felt that the first book did not have enough “fantasy” in it will be a lot happier with this sequel. Lee’s gold sense plays a bigger role this time around, and has a much greater impact on the outcome of the story. Her power is also evolving, growing stronger somehow. And as to why this is happening, that’s a mystery Lee is also trying to figure out for herself.

Then there’s the romance. While it wasn’t a big part of the first book, Rae Carson did plant a seed of something between Lee and her best friend Jefferson, and those feelings finally come to fruition. The pacing of the romance remains slow-burn though, which for me is a breath of fresh air especially after having read a string of YA novels featuring instalove, or female protagonists who immediately hurl themselves at a guy the moment he shows a hint of interest. I liked how Lee kept a level head despite her growing feelings for Jeff, keeping in mind what she would be gaining and sacrificing for marriage in an era where women have little power. It may seem like a rather cold, unromantic way to think about love, but it does show that Lee is mature, independent and insightful—traits that I admire in a protagonist.

Despite the book’s strengths though, I did have some issues with the depiction of Lee and her friends, especially given the historical setting and social climate of the times. I understand that, especially in a YA novel, we need our protagonists to be the good guys to cheer for and look up to, and true to form, Lee is heroine who wants to buck the system and fight against injustices. The problem is that it’s not subtle at all, and it’s immersion-breaking when looking at this book through a historical fiction lens. When it comes to historical novels I think it’s important to look at how context shapes character motivations and attitudes, and while I can understand why a lot of Lee’s experiences would shape her opinions on land ownership, slavery, religion, women’s rights, etc., a lot of the actions of her and her settler friends do come across a bit revisionist. At some point in this novel, Lee also started to feel too much to me like a present-day teenage character transported to the 1850s, but this probably didn’t bother me as much as it would have if this had been an adult novel.

Other than that minor issue, I honestly have no complaints. Overall I really enjoyed Like A River Glorious, and like the first book this one was also blessedly free of pesky cliffhangers. I like how both installments have so far ended with all its major story conflicts resolved, while still being a part of a greater narrative. This is another chapter in Lee and Jefferson’s lives, and I loved the happy conclusion. Looking forward to where the next book will take them.


Mogsy 2

15 Comments on “YA Weekend: Like A River Glorious by Rae Carson”

  1. Interesting, I can see how hard it must be for writers trying to keep their own modern day knowledge of history out of the narrative of a historical story. But I’d probably be more forgiving of it happening in a YA book. Looking forward to getting to this, maybe in “catch up month!”


    • There’s definitely a fine balance between having your character champion worthy causes while preserving history, versus complete revisionism and glossing over the unpleasantness of the times. I think this book edged into the latter, but yes, I did feel much more lenient because it’s YA.


  2. I totally get where you’re coming from with the critique of Lee and co.’s modern attitudes, but to be perfectly honest, I was glad to see it. I’m definitely more forgiving of YA historicals and prefer them to have likeable characters over historically accurate viewpoints. Totally agree on the romance though, very sweet and level-headed!


  3. I still haven’t gotten into my copy of the first book but I was really curious how you’d make out with this one when I saw you were reading it on GR! Sequels tend to be a bit more lackluster than the first book in my experience but I’m glad that you still enjoyed this enough overall…especially for a YA read. GREAT review^^ ♥


    • Yeah, sequels have an uphill battle, especially if the first book was well received. The world and ideas are no longer “new” to returning readers anymore, so there needs to be more of a hook in the story. I still loved it though!


  4. I love your point about the historical aspects – it’s never occurred to me before just how difficult it must be to write an historical novel and actually get it spot on in terms of not knowing what turn events were going to take.
    I do so want to read this series though.
    Lynn 😀


    • I enjoy a degree of historical accuracy, even in fantasy, if a historical story is what we’re supposed to be getting. I think it’s nice to have very forward thinking characters especially in YA when you need good protagonists to look up to, but at the same time you can so easily fall into the trap of making everything all sunshine and rainbows! It can be immersion breaking at times, but like I said I probably would be more bothered if this had been an adult novel instead of YA 🙂


  5. Pingback: Mogsy’s Bookshelf Roundup: Stacking the Shelves & Recent Reads | The BiblioSanctum

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