Growing up in the UK, my knowledge of wagon parties and pioneers was shaped by Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “Little House on the Prairie”. But reading the stories as an adult, you don’t get the real sense of danger and the unknown that the groups travelling west would have encountered.
Needless to say, I’d never heard of the story of the Donner party and their fateful trip into the unknown. I was gripped by the story from the outset, mainly because the story was based on real people. My one criticism would be that the large ensemble of characters made it difficult sometimes to follow the individual stories as the last instalment could have been a few chapters back and I found myself flipping back to re-read some sections. This could have been helped by including a list of the characters at the beginning of the book, but I was reading an advance copy and this may be included in the main print run. I think the book would have also benefitted from a map charting their perilous journey, but that could just be the geographer in me!
The cross-genre nature of this book (Western meets sci-fi) was a refreshing take on the historical novel. Alma Katsu cleverly takes the known facts and weaves an eerie explanation into why the party members start going missing and her descriptions of some events may be best read in daylight by those of a nervous disposition…
All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and it has certainly made me want to read more about a period in history I know so little about. Little House on the Prairie it most certainly ain’t!