Gold Rush Groom
Whenever I read of the hardships the gold miners went through to get to the fields in Alaska, I’m always amazed not only that they weathered the mountains and rivers amid the cold and unusually long or short days and nights, but also that so many stayed and built a life there. Beautiful scenery and pristine natural conditions obviously have a pull that starts somewhere deep in some people and pull them with an unrelenting force.
Lily Shananhan, an Irish orphan, is one of those people. Her mother has died, father left the family and is presumed dead, and her siblings have scattered. Now in the town of Dyea, Lily is determined to get to Dawson City and live the adventure her mother hinted at on her death bed. Lone women, however, weren’t allowed to travel the treacherous passage to the new gold town.
So Lily and Nala, her huge mutt of a dog, were on the beach meeting the steamers as they dumped men and cargo off into the water since Dyea had no dock. Lily hoped that by helping men get their gear safely to the tent city, she could coerce one into partnering her through the Chilkoot Pass to her dream.
Onto the shore washes greenhorn dandy Jack Snow, whose father had lost all of the family’s money and then taken his life. Jack, attending Princeton in his senior year at the time, watched as his mother and sister were shunned by supposed lifelong friends and suffered as his fiancée dumped him. Vowing to change his fortune in Alaska and come back a rich man, Jack and his mining machine parts washed up on Dyea’s shore, ripe for Lily’s common sense and knowledge of the region to save him from himself.
Grudgingly Jack agrees to take Lily to Dawson with him and is repaid time and again as she and Nala save his life. As they fall in love during their perilous journey climbing the ice steps over the mountain while hauling their food, clothing, and other essentials as well as Jack’s weighty metal pieces, Lily resists him because she doesn’t want to watch him walk away as her father had. Jack on his part equally resists Lily because, as one of the lowly Irish, she wouldn’t fit into his East Coast lifestyle.
And here was my biggest frustration with the book: While Lily and Nala keep bailing Jack out of the predicaments he gets himself into as a greenhorn, Jack remains steadfast in his plan to return back East and marry a rich debutante. The most he can envision is the steadfast Lily sharing his future as his mistress, not his wife. As Kernan wrote the feisty Lily, she should have dumped Jack and moved on to someone more worth her time and effort long before they got to Dawson.
Despite Jack’s being a lightweight in the story, this tale of frontier Alaska was enjoyable and enlightening in all the little nuances of daily life that Kernan added to it. At times it was so life-like that it gave me shivers at the bleak conditions; on the other hand, the rapture of the Northern Lights and the natural beauty the author describes makes the trip into the wilderness well worthwhile.