River of Peril

Written by Susan K. Marlow
Review by Liz Allenby

The year is 1864, and although California is aligned with the northern states in the Civil War, the Knights of the Golden Circle attempt to funnel gold to Confederate troops in the South. After their stage is robbed by the Knights on the way from Goldtown to Sacramento with a shipment of gold, twelve-year-old Jem and his sister Ellie are soon acquainted with the dangers of traveling with gold. They learn that the thieves took the wrong box. Once in Sacramento, his father deposits the real gold in the bank, where it is destined for the Union army.

Meanwhile, the Duchess, a side-wheeling steamship, prepares for departure at the Sacramento wharf. Jem and Elle encounter a young French-speaking lad named Henri being beaten by some thugs. They save him and discover he is son of the Captain of the Duchess. When they go aboard to meet his father, they run into Black Boots, one of the robbers from the stagecoach. As the novel progresses, Ellie is kidnapped by the robbers and secreted on board the Duchess. Jem must work to save her. The novel grows ever more tense and exciting, culminating in an unexpected turn of events.

Well-researched and full of little-known historical facts, this book illustrates the life and times of Gold Rush Sacramento from a child’s point of view. Jem is a likeable, well-rounded character who has the gumption to rescue his little sister despite great danger. Jem’s common sense and humanity prevail, making this an excellent selection for any classroom studying the California Gold Rush.