Raid of Souls
Robbing the Pillars, the first book in Kalen Vaughan Johnson’s Empire Barons series, introduced James MacLaren, a hot-tempered yet principled and socially conscious man who had been forced to flee from Scotland to the United States. Having settled in California, MacLaren was quick to recognize that the heyday of the independent miners was ending and that consortiums led by greedy and ruthless speculators were seeking to ringfence the spoils of the Gold Rush for themselves. His decision to champion the cause of the miners might have been morally correct, but it led to all manner of trouble and danger for MacLaren and those dear to him, including his wife Emma and his headstrong daughter Charlotte.
In Raid of Souls, Johnson picks up the story of James MacLaren following the shocking revelations and cliffhanger toward the end of the previous book. If anything, despite MacLaren’s best efforts to achieve parity, tensions between the independent miners and the powerful consortiums are higher than ever, as the depletion of the surface gold has made it necessary to mine even deeper, which requires costly equipment and expertise. Such investment rarely pays off for the little guy, and the consortiums are able to buy up failed mines at rock-bottom prices. The collapse of their businesses leads to increasing numbers of miners seeking employment with the consortiums, and it’s dangerous and backbreaking work. Rather than busying himself with his ranch, MacLaren decides to continue fighting the miners’ cause, spearheading the formation of a union and once again risking all that is important to him in an attempt to do the right thing.
Given the detailed nature of the story, as well as the interlinking plotlines and intriguing cast of characters, it would probably be useful to read Robbing the Pillars before tackling Raid of Souls, although Johnson does provide some valuable scene-setting and background information to help orientate readers who are new to the series. The book is rich in historical information and Johnson has done a great job of capturing the tone and atmosphere of California during the mid-to-late-1800s. It is clear that she has done a good deal of research into life during the Gold Rush and her enthusiasm for the period really shines through in the story. From the ranches to the mines to the “big city” of Sacramento, the locations are well described and authentic, while the characters’ concerns and dialogue generally ring true.
James MacLaren remains a gruff yet appealing lead character. His hyperawareness of the class struggle might sometimes blind him to the minutiae of life, but he is truly committed to helping the miners and exposing the dodgy dealings of big business. He is aware of the danger that his activities bring to those around him and so, this time around, he takes the step of sending daughter Charlotte to safety. Unfortunately, his desire to protect her might just have put Charlotte in the path of a romance that could spell trouble for those on both sides of the mining conflict. Reflective of real life, Raid of Souls is a slow-burning story of good versus evil and all the shades of gray that exist between the two.
|Five Star Publishing/Cengage
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