Wednesday, July 1, 2009

The Devil’s Paintbox by Victoria McKernan

Aiden and his younger sister Maddy are barely alive, eating mud now that the food has run out in their drought and fire ravaged homestead. Their family is dead. Their neighbors are dead or have left for more promising areas. When Jefferson J Jackson arrives on a horse one day, although Aiden doesn’t trust him, he’s quick to grab on to a chance for survival. He joins a wagon train headed for Seattle and indentured work as a logger once he gets there to pay off his and his sister’s travel debt.

McKernan doesn’t pull any punches in this novel. Life was bitterly difficult and she makes sure the reader knows it. Hardships, frequent death, starvation, violence, disease…The west was truly wild. For some reason I thought this was a western, shoot-em-up type tale and so I kept it on my TBR pile for quite a long time. I’m sorry I did that as I could have enjoyed this story so much sooner.

The writing was gritty and full of terse humor:

“Lot of people don’t make it. There’s a hundred ways to die on this journey.”
“Well,” Aiden said, “I do appreciate some novelty.”

I really liked Aiden. He was a tough kid, made so from a tough life in Kansas, from everyone in his family dying, from trying to keep his last sister alive. He’s quick with a bow and even quicker with a fist. He’s a hard worker, honest, and morally upstanding – occasionally too much so to be believable (but that was just with the ladies of the night…I mean come on).

I loved Jefferson J. Jackson the hard man who rounds up and commands the wagon train that Aiden joins. I loved him especially. Gritty and realistic with a soft side that can’t help but be exposed on occasion.

In all honesty, this was quite a thrill ride of a book. Wholly unexpected and made so much more enjoyable for the discovery.


The only thing that gave me any pause was that the author did rather a close dance to the prostitute with a heart of gold cliche. I thought she narrowly avoided it. Narrowly. Squeaked by. In contrast, I loved Ruby.

No comments: