Like a River Glorious, by Rae Carson, was published in 2016 by Greenwillow. It is the sequel to Walk on Earth a Stranger.
Lee Westfall survived the dangerous journey to California. She found a new family in the other outcasts of their wagon train, and Jefferson, her best friend, is beginning to woo her shamelessly. Now they have a real home—one rich in gold, thanks to Lee’s magical ability to sense the precious metal in the world around her. But Lee’s Uncle Hiram has survived his own journey west. He’s already murdered her parents, and he will do anything to have Lee and her talents under his control. No one is safe. When he kidnaps her, she sees firsthand the depths of his depravity. Lee’s magic is changing, though. It is growing. The gold no longer simply sings to her—it listens. It obeys her call. Will that alone be enough to destroy her uncle?
All my worries about a potential sequel to Walk on Earth a Stranger, a book that stood alone with little to carry into another book, came to fruition in Like a River Glorious, which is ultimately a pointless sequel that tells the same story as the first book, only without the going west part.
The only character change in this book is that Leah’s gold-seeking changes in depth and power. Otherwise, the characters are the same: Hiram is flatly evil, and little is revealed about his relationship to Leah’s parents or why he killed them (specifically, why he killed Leah’s mother, since it seems pointless to have done so. Carson reiterates over and over that women are powerless in the eyes of the law, so there’s really no reason for Hiram to have killed Leah’s mother. Rage, perhaps, at her apparent betrayal?). Jefferson is typical Love Interest Boy, meaning he’s uninteresting, and Leah spends most of the book being criticized for what other people are doing.
Speaking of the latter, Carson uses this book as a mouthpiece for her modernistic ideas of 1849, and spends the majority of the events making sure the reader knows exactly how Leah is responsible for the abuse of Native Americans and how she should feel terrible about it, and how people should feel guilty for owning land and never own land because it all belongs to the Native Americans.
By the way, Carson, I hope you’re practicing what you preach and don’t own any land yourself.
Also, wow, does she take some liberties with history. Some of it is explained away at the end in an author’s note (mostly consisting of “I wanted to bring this to light earlier than when it actually happened so it would fit my narrative”), but Carson conveniently left out the fact that women could actually own property at that time, despite the many, many times it’s stated to the contrary in the novel.
Highlighting the abuses of the time isn’t a bad thing, but filtering it through modernistic views is problematic. And regardless of accuracy of depiction, Carson’s constant preaching and guilt-tripping only caused me to want to never pick up the last book in the trilogy. I also can’t see what would be in a third book, since once again, everything is wrapped up neatly in this book.
Like a River Glorious reminded me of what I hate about young adult literature: the constant authorial preaching, the filtering of events through modern lenses, pointless romance, and the manipulation of historical data to fit one’s particular narrative. I have no desire to pick up the last novel in the trilogy, or read anything by Carson ever again.
Recommended Age Range: 14+
Genre: Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Young Adult
“Slow down,” I tell Olive. “You have to let the gold settle. Do you see it?”
“Where?” she asks.
All I mean to do is point, but it seems as though the flake lifts out of the water and sticks to my finger, just as if I called it. It’s the strangest feeling, like a static shock when it touches my skin.