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Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Cindy Vallar reviews the Promise of Gold trilogy

From Pirates and Privateers

Captain Jahaziel “Jake” Dexter believes a pirate’s old sea journal contains the map to the lost treasure of Panama. Back in 1670 the Spaniards feared that Henry Morgan intended to steal their gold, so they loaded it onto a ship with a group of nuns. The ship and all aboard were never heard from again. Nearly two centuries later, Jake and his crew arrive at Judas Island in hopes of retrieving that gold.

While his men dig on the spooky island, Jake remains aboard his brig, waiting for his mate to return. Charlie has rowed over to a ship to broker a deal for whale oil, which they will sell in Valparaiso, Chile for a tidy profit. What Charlie returns with, however, is a passenger – and a female one to boot.

Harriet Gray’s presence is inconvenient and unwanted, but the eighteen-year-old actress has only one goal in mind. She must get to Valparaiso before the deadline passes. She can’t understand why the “gallant and kindly gentleman of the sea” insists that she return to the whaleship. But that vessel has since disappeared, and Harriet feels she’s been duped for the second time in her life. Her bridegroom abandoned her soon after the wedding, leaving her destitute and alone. Now Jake threatens to dump her on the first ship they pass, so she must find a way to change his mind.

Before long, Harriet discovers she’s among freebooters who run the Gosling like a pirate ship – each has a vote and majority rules. When the Goslings fail to find the gold, Harriet sees her chance. She purchases a share in the brig, much to Jake’s chagrin, and although the men are against a woman having a vote, they agree to her proposal to sail to Valparaiso where her brother, Royal, has rounded up a herd of alpaca that needs to be smuggled out of Chile and for which the British government will pay £100,000 once they are delivered to Australia. But the Chileans aren’t about to let foreigners abscond with their treasured alpacas, and Jake, the Goslings, Harriet, and Royal must use all of their wits and luck just to escape with their lives.

Then news arrives that gold has been struck in California, and Jake cooks up a tidy little plan that will net them a huge profit. If the tales of the strike are true. If they reach San Francisco. If the despicable Murieta brothers don’t harm Harriet and take over the ship.

Judas Island is the first book in the Promise of Gold trilogy, a spellbinding adventure series set in the 1840s. Combined with the two subsequent titles – Calafia’s Kingdom (book two) andDearest Enemy (book three) – these stories undulate like storm-swept seas as the Goslings and the Grays search for treasure. The author’s note is really a list of recommended historical resources, rather than an account of the history behind the novel, which I would have preferred. There’s also a glossary for those unfamiliar with nautical terms.

Since books two and three take place on land, they’re not reviewed here, but I heartily recommend reading all three titles in this series. I found it refreshing and a real joy to be able to read what happens from the moment Jake and Harriet meet until the mysteries that entwine their lives are solved. Complete with humor, romance, tragedy, and fantastical exploits, Joan Druett expertly recreates the dizzying days of the California gold rush, where fortunes could be made and lost in the span of a day. Her characters come from all walks of life and are so vividly portrayed that they walk off the pages into your room. Promise of Gold is an exhilarating voyage not soon to be forgotten.

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