Read this if you’re in the mood for: atmosphere, young adult historical fantasy, diversity, badass heroines, world-building, character development
Summary: A young woman with the magical ability to sense the presence of gold must flee her home, taking her on a sweeping and dangerous journey across Gold Rush–era America.
Lee Westfall has a secret. She can sense the presence of gold in the world around her. Veins deep beneath the earth, pebbles in the river, nuggets dug up from the forest floor. The buzz of gold means warmth and life and home—until everything is ripped away by a man who wants to control her. Left with nothing, Lee disguises herself as a boy and takes to the trail across the country. Gold was discovered in California, and where else could such a magical girl find herself, find safety?
Read this if you like:
Fire & Thorns trilogy by Rae Carson
Elisa takes a little longer to develop her emotional badassery than Leah, but both stories have incredible world-building, relatable heroines, and fantastic characterization. Like the Fire & Thorns trilogy, romance is present (and authentic and earned!), but it doesn't overshadow the plot.
GRAVE MERCY by Robin LaFevers
Another historical with just enough magic to push it from magic realism into actual fantasy. Plus, Ismae is coming into her own and learning to trust her capabilities, like Lee. Plus, romance!
The Rec: The basic premise of Gold Rush-era America and a main character who can sense gold is excellent, but Carson just nailed the execution. Lee is a fantastic main character — brave, hardworking, determined, intelligent — and the supporting characters are phenomenal and so deftly written. I really appreciated the natural inclusion of diversity in the characters and the realistic portrayal of the racism and sexism of the era.
Lee spends the entirety of the book keeping her ability a secret, so there's not much "MAGIC" in the all-caps sense. But Carson weaves Lee's constant awareness of gold through every page, and it feels utterly realistic, which is the mark of every successful fantasy.
The difficulties of traveling West feel like a grown-up, visceral "Oregon Trail," and the harsh landscape combined with character conflict keeps the tension high throughout. (And it makes you appreciate cars and planes!) It's a long book, but there's a perfect balance of detail vs plot momentum, and I read it in just a couple of sittings because I became totally absorbed in Lee's world.
WALK ON EARTH A STRANGER has cemented Rae Carson as an auto-read author for me, and I can't wait to see where this series goes!
The Caveat: If you prefer your fantasy super fantastical, this isn't the book for you. If you're looking for epic gold seer-ness, I think we'll find more magic in the sequel, and I'm totally ok with that.
You should read this because: This book is the total package. The historical world is so vivid, and I can't wait to spend more time with the characters.
Recommendation by: Donna