Jack Buchanan becomes a reluctant miner in 1870s Jasper, Colorado. He must do so to oblige his father’s friend, mine operator Victor Creely, who offers him a job after the Buchanan ranch is wiped out in a brush fire. Milena Shabanov, a Romani, is also stranded in Jasper against her will after her father dies on the trail West. She ekes out a living telling fortunes in the local bordello, which keeps her from having to pursue the more customary occupation. Jack becomes dismayed when a series of his fellow miners vanish. He is sure that Creely is behind the disappearances, but his family’s obligation to the man makes him reluctant to follow up on his suspicions. When Creely’s negligence results in a cave-in that traps Jack and some fellow miners, Milena is inspired to use her gift of “sight” to help find them.
Multiple cliffhangers keep the pages turning. Steffen includes several rounded secondary characters, though the villain is rather one-dimensional. We are told he’s been kind to Jack’s family, but that happens off-stage, and everything else he does in the novel is evil. The love story between Jack and Milena isn’t well-developed, and I didn’t find their relationship very believable. Steffen may have been trying for a laconic Western tone, but passages such as “Hide. Now. Someone else was here. Danger. Close.” is more comical than terse. The ending leaves several story threads dangling, so Steffen may be planning a sequel.