Saturday, October 6, 2001

Treasures of the North: Adventures in the Yukon

Adventure and romance amidst the Yukon Gold Rush: so begins the "Yukon Quest" historical fiction book series. Tracie Peterson fans new and old will enjoy reading her latest offering, a story told in three parts beginning with Treasures of the North.

In 1897 Chicago, 20-year-old Grace Hawkins must marry Martin Paxton at her father's insistence. Yet she soon finds the man, who is blackmailing her father, unbearable. In desperation, she accepts help from her high-spirited governess, Karen Pierce, in a daring escape. Leaving behind the only world she has known, Grace soon finds excitement and freedom in the Yukon.

While men stream to the West Coast, seeking passage to the rumored gold up north, many business men find an easier way to riches: through the ships and other goods required by gold diggers. Peter Colton sees the perfect opportunity to expand his family's fledgling shipping company, and is soon offering passage to Yukon-bound travelers. Soon Peter meets Grace and her determined companions, who travel on his ship Merry Maid to Skagway, Alaska.

Martin Paxton is a two-dimensional, pure evil antagonist with no redemptive or realistic features, and finds himself easily outwitted by the women he seeks to destroy. Grace Hawkins, his primary target, soon falls in love with Peter Colton, and blossoms under both her newfound freedom and Peter's attention. The Paxton / Grace Hawkins plot quickly comes to resemble a melodrama with its classic elements of bad guy forever plotting to destroy the damsel in distress, with the good guy (and, in this case, clever women as well) coming to the rescue. Or so it seems in this first part of the "Yukon Quest" story.

Treasures of the North actually involves three plotlines, and soon the story changes gears to expand Karen's role. First seen as an arrogant, flippant feminist, Karen develops into a mature woman as she takes on the care of two abandoned children while concerned for her missionary father.

The historical background includes interesting details about the gold-rush towns of Skagway and Dyea, Alaska and the steam ships that traveled to these locations. The country had recently suffered an economic downturn with the silver panic of 1893, and Bill Barringer, with his children Jacob and Leah, have gone from riches to rags as a result. Yet now the lure of gold in the Yukon causes men such as Barringer, now widowed and living in a small cabin in Colorado, to bring along his two children and take foolish chances in the land of the midnight sun. Other historical details include the Canadian government's regulations as well as slang words such as "Cheechakos" (the newcomer gold-rushers) and "Sour Doughs" (old timers). The Tlingit Indians, though never met directly, are mentioned briefly as being those among whom Karen's father has worked as a missionary. Much of the story's action takes place in Skagway, a mere tent city with only a few wooden dwellings. Yet the town is constantly growing; indeed, by wintertime, when the women have only lived there about four months, Skagway has grown three times in size.

Treasures of the North is the first of three parts in the same story; Ashes and Ice continues the story, with the conclusion, Rivers of Gold, scheduled for publication in February 2002. While bringing a great deal of action suspense near the end of the first book, the ending only marks a transition in the lives of some characters without satisfactory closure. Fortunately, the second book has already been published, so readers can quickly get to the next chapter of the continuing saga.

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