Like a River Glorious is the sequel to Walk on Earth a Stranger in the Gold Seer trilogy by Rae Carson. In my review for the first book, I was raving about just how well Carson’s writing holds my attention. While I didn’t enjoy it quite as much as the last one, Like a River Glorious held my attention just as much; I finished it in approximately one sitting.
Where the book begins, Lee and the surviving members of her westbound party arrive in California, where she finally comes out to her friends about her gold-seeing abilities. The land they stake claims to is rich with gold, but they agree that Lee must hold back on digging it all up in order to keep a low profile.
Marriage becomes an important subject early on. Lee, now open about both her true gender and her magical powers, gets more marriage proposals from the straight men they meet, and Jefferson also becomes quite obsessed with Lee’s marriage prospects. But Lee makes it very clear until the end that, as a woman, if she marries, all her property and even her name, all she has left to call hers, would become her husband’s, so she continues to otherwise resist Jeff’s advances until the end. I don’t see this as an anti-man, misandrist message for modern readers; rather, I see it as an unfortunate look into the life of women before we were granted equal rights in the Western world, and I feel relief that we can live better today.
Eventually, Lee’s uncle Hiram catches up with the party, and sends men to kidnap her. Drugged, Lee and Jeff and one of the three “confirmed bachelor” men are whisked away to Hiram Westfall’s land, where he’s forced Native American men, women, and children into doing backbreaking, dehumanizing labor. (Rae Carson’s portrayal of their living conditions is in no way sugar-coated; it’s even more raw and disturbing than anything she wrote in the last book.) Hiram is after Lee, because he knows of her gold-seeing powers. Though he’s got her quite literally under his thumb, with the help of her inmates and new allies, Lee formulates an escape plan not just for herself, but for all of Hiram’s prisoners.
In terms of objectionable content / potentially offensive content, this book scales things up a little bit:
- I should have known this was coming, but Lee and Jefferson finally … y’know … do stuff together in this book. There’s a sensual, touchy-feely makeout scene that I had to skip over because it was just so … ew. (If I were to buy this book for my personal library, I think the easiest thing for me to do, for my own comfort, is to take a black marker to this offending scene. Don’t judge. If I buy it, I can do whatever I want with my private property.) But of everything problematic that happens in this book, this was by far the most gratuitous.
- Lee’s sole female friend while under captivity is a Chinese woman named Mary, who is revealed to be a prostitute for the men in Hiram’s employ. She’s never shown on-page doing anything sexual with other characters, and she had a place in the story.
- Lee’s uncle tries to suggest that Lee was born of an illicit liason.
- The “confirmed bachelor” characters also dance with other men at a gala event. That may offend more conservative readers, but it didn’t bother me. Really, the bachelors are some of my favorite characters because they have a place in the story – they’re not just there to talk about being queer or oppressed. All the characters in this story have a place in the plot and … in heaven, once Rae Carson decides to kill them off. 😛 (And there’s plenty more of that in this book too.)
- Rae Carson doesn’t sugar-coat her descriptions of the dehumanizing living conditions (or lack thereof) of Native Americans enslaved by Lee’s uncle. Innocent people are murdered and their bodies left to rot, and many are even forbidden to wear clothes. Their situation was awful. I’m not saying this is inappropriate so much as it is disturbing and triggering and painful to read. It’s not for the faint of heart.
At this point, I’m unsure of whether I can handle the next book. The disturbing qualities of this story had a place and I’m actually glad I read it; the extent to which Native Americans were abused in this fictional setting definitely has more than a grain of truth to it and I am both horrified and educated by what I read.
As for the sexual content, I bet a lot of you are shaking your heads and cringing that I reacted so strongly to what was probably really mild for YA. If the next book escalates the touchy-feely-grossness any further, it’s probably not for me, but I feel torn because I’ve invested a lot of time in the series already. Decisions, decisions….