Reviews

The Gold Hunter

BlueInk Review says: This story, the first in a projected series of four novels collectively called The Goldfinder, is a well-crafted excursion into the world of magical realism. A surreal dreamscape that moves back and forth through time, identities and presumptions, the book is set in the mid-19 century American West where everyone is infected, one way or another, with the often-fatal disease of gold fever.

At the story’s center is the deteriorating Valory family. John, the father, operates a saw mill, ripping logs into planks for a mining operation until consumed by one of his old demons, drink. His Russian wife Magya, her dreams of a budding singing career crushed by John’s deceptions, finally abandons the family and flees. Their two children, the teenaged Petr (Magya claims to have left off the second “e” in his name to save ink) and Annabel, a girl who proves wise beyond her years, cling to each other for protection.

Dreaming of rescuing the family by discovering vast riches, Petr is guided by the disembodied voice of a wise Indian spirit to an underwater cave filled with gold. But instead of providing salvation, he eventually realizes that gold is a great destroyer and that his find will bring only loss, instead of prosperity. Secretly following her brother, Annabel, too, stumbles onto a gold horde but finds danger as well. Ultimately, Petr discovers his true history–a discovery that will lead to violence and death.

The author controls all these elements admirably and stylishly, his prose striking the right notes whether describing scenes touched with Native mysticism or those of dark realism. The characters are well drawn, interacting believably while responding to their hardships in ways that are always consistent with their personalities. Cleverly, although the novel is strong enough to stand alone, sufficient questions are left open for readers to anticipate the next volume in the series.

Overall, fans of magical realism will find The Gold Hunter rich with rewards.

Also available in hardcover and ebook.

 

Kirkus Review says: A series opener delivers a tale of gold fever and destiny in the Old West. Like so many others, John Valory heads to the Sierra Nevada in the early 1850s because of the California Gold Rush. He brings his family, including Magya, his Russian wife; his 17-year-old son, Petr John (Magya claims that “the Valorys were so poor they couldn’t afford ink for the second ‘e’ in Petr’s name”); and his 8-year-old daughter, Annabel Rochele. But the Valorys didn’t come to pan for gold; John and his son are lumbermen, harvesting trees to construct flumes and other wooden structures for an organized group of miners led by Dain King. Two major events threaten the survival of the Valorys: a tragic family secret John and Magya share with King and Petr’s discovery of a mother lode of gold buried in a lake. Annabel follows her beloved brother to the lake and gets lost. In Petr’s tireless journey to find his sister, he discovers truths about himself and his past lives….

The writing is muscular, rich with Native American nature symbols and vivid descriptions of the setting. Brisk pacing and multiple well-balanced plotlines keep the narrative moving despite an overabundance of foreshadowing. The mystical book is clearly well-researched and includes a trove of relevant historical facts and anecdotes. But this is not a G-rated Western….

An unusual gold-rush novel and atypical Western offers a hero’s journey with plenty of action and savagery incongruously spiked with a glittering bein of symbols and stories drawn from diverse myths.

 

Clarion Review (Meagan Logsdon) says: This gold rush novel is intriguing in its explorations of human greed. Philip Atlas Clausen’s The Gold Hunter employs the California gold rush as a backdrop for this morality tale of greed and corruption that often wanders into mystical territory.

In the wild horizons of the California gold rush, Petr Valory discovers a hidden underground lake filled with gold beyond anyone’s imaginings. The adopted son of a tree cutter, Petr’s head is filled with all the things he can do for his father, mother, and little sister, and with the best of intentions, he takes some the gold for his own.

He must reckon with the villainous Dain King, a Viking-obsessed man in charge of the nearby settlement, Gold Nation. King entertains dreams of wiping out the “Indians” and outlasting the United States in its oncoming civil war so that he can establish his own society based on Viking ideals. When Petr’s sister, Annabel, goes missing, a chain of events is et off that will draw Petr deep into a tangled web of conspiracies and violence, in which he struggles with the fragility of human life….

The Gold Hunter is intriguing in its explorations of human greed.

 

The Black Butterfly Woman

Kirkus Review says: In his first novel (2013), Clausen tells the gripping story of psychological traumas that lead a soldier to volunteer for the dirtiest work in Vietnam. To create the fully realized Billy Bascom, Clausen masterfully weaves together two primary narratives, one a gruesome picture of war and the other an equally gruesome picture of a painful childhood.

Billy’s job in Vietnam calls for him to dive headfirst into the dark, snake-infested tunnels that the Vietcong use to execute sneak attacks on unsuspecting US soldiers. It takes a touch of insanity to volunteer for such a task, and as a way of explaining what leads Billy underground, Clausen leaps between passages that describe Billy’s exploration of the enemy tunnels and descriptions of his childhood.

Growing up in Los Angeles, Billy was scrawny and quiet. He was mercifully bullied by Nick and his gang as well as by his exhausted single mother. Over the course of Billy’s childhood, Nick nearly suffocates him in a bag, locks him in a refrigerator, and eventually begins handing him off to a child molester in exchange for cigarettes and magazines. This series of scarring experiences, most perpetuated by Nick, drove Billy to volunteer for combat and venture to Vietnam to fight off the Communists, who he believes to be the ultimate bullies.

This narrative is ultimately shattered when Billy meets a Berkeley educated Vietnamese woman while doing covert work in the tunnels. The woman, whom Billy refers to as the Black Butterfly Woman, provides Billy with an alternative of war. She and Billy fall in love but are torn apart by violence.

Billy then returns home and is finally forced to confront the issues that sent him to Vietnam in the first place. In addition to the remarkable depth of character, the novel’s brisk pace makes for an engaging read.

Deftly written, this entertaining novel is both expansive and insightful.

(Available from Amazon)