Comments on Clarion Review: The Gold Shaper

Just a few footnotes on the perils of a getting a professional book review. It’s easy to be too quickly understood by a very busy reviewer (I’m sure they’re very overworked and overwhelmed by the volume of new books on the market). The reviewer says three times my work is a trilogy. It may be unimportant to anyone else on earth but I would like to state and make plain and clear in no uncertain terms:

The Goldfinder is a four-part series. Book One, The Gold Hunter; Book Two, The Gold Shaper; Book Three, The Gold Soldier; Book Four, (to be published) The Heart of Gold Lake.

The reviewer states my character is a “young man navigating the early colonial wilderness”. The American colonial period was roughly mid-1500’s to mid-1700’s. The Goldfinder Series has nothing to do with the colonial period and everything to do with the Gold Rush era, which began in 1849. I have done everything in my writing power to capture the flavor and mania of the Gold Rush era, and particularly the Valory family which is swept up and destroyed by the gold fever madness–and–what will Petr Valory do to survive after the madness has rushed over him. Which leads me to the next point: the white’s relationship with the native people.

I am taken to task “that Native American characters are consistently called ‘red'”. Let me assure you it would be highly unrealistic (unless I were writing a Mel Brooks comedy-parody) to have any of my white characters say, “Let us go over the rise and see if there are any Native Americans lurking there.” Even though it might be offensive to modern ears, the Gold Rush characters would and did say: “Keep your eyes peeled for redskins.” At best I can only repeat the disclaimer that appeared in the foreword to Francis Parkman’s great classic, The Oregon Trail: “It is important for today’s readers to keep in mind, however, that although this book was representative of its time, it in no way reflects current attitudes.”

But anyone who dares to write with any degree of racial flavor is doomed to be misunderstood. And those who are uncomfortable with American history shouldn’t read American history. They should read fairy tales, romances or soap operas. American history is strong stuff and always will be. No other nation has tried to provide equality and freedom for every race and class. Our failures have been epic and bloody. But at least we have tried. And in my life and in my writing, with a great lack of perfection, so have I.

Clarion Review: 4-stars to The Gold Shaper

The Gold Shaper is a fast-paced, exciting coming-of-age story about identity and the search for a deeper purpose.

The second novel in a trilogy, Philip Atlas Clausen’s The Gold Shaper puts a twist on the western genre by pairing a yearning for gold with the dramatic story of a biracial young man navigating the early colonial wilderness. Tense interactions between starkly different characters are the star of this adventure-filled show.

Without having read the first book in the series, it is at first difficult to decipher the relationships between the various characters, but after a few pages, each character’s singular motivation is made apparent. Sabbah, a Native American man, wants to evict the white men from the continent by any means necessary. Dain King, a leader in a nearby white settlement, wants gold. And Petr, King’s half-white, half Native seventeen-year-old estranged son and the story’s protagonist, wants to save his kidnapped sister and prevent a war between the white and Native peoples. Petr is pulled in many directions, which constantly shift and amp up the tension of the already suspenseful plot.

At the beginning of the novel, King takes Petr hostage and tortures him in an attempt to get information out of him about the location of his gold. When he ties the boy up in a canoe and throws him down the river–with someone a few miles down to grab him–the canoe is intercepted and Petr is rescued by a group of Native Americans, one of who is the beautiful Minoah. Petr soon discovers that Sabbah is part of this tribe, and tracks him down in order to find his sister. Of the very few women characters featured in the novel, one is Minoah, who functions merely as a love interest, and another is Petr’s sister, who falls into the damsel-in-distress archetype. The speed at which Petr and Minoah fall in love is detrimental to Minoah’s character development as an individual, and Petr’s sister, at least in this volume of the trilogy, seems to serve only as a plot piece to keep Petr moving forward.

It is also problematic that Sabbah is often referred to as “the bad Indian,” that Native American characters are consistently called “red”. Petr considers his Native American heritage a “dirty” part of him and chooses to identify with it as little as possible, except for in a few brief instances with Minoah, such as when she givesĀ  him a pair of moccasins that symbolize her wish to marry him.

The interpersonal relationships between the characters–aside from the too-fast partnership of Minoah and Petr–deepens the story beyond its action-filled plot. Especially for Petr, the tension between the two communities and the complex men within them can twist single-minded ambitions from distinct to more than black and white. Realistic, dramatic dialogue strengthens these interactions and pulls the multilayered plot forward swiftly. The woodsy setting, too, always looms in the background, commingling danger and beauty.

The Gold Shaper is a fast-paced, exciting, coming-of-age story about identity and the search for a deeper purpose. Fans of westerns and historical adventures may enjoy this novel and the other volumes of the trilogy. (Aimee Jodoin– April 26, 2018)