From Publishers Weekly
Six-time Spur Award–winner Wheeler takes on the charismatic, unpredictable, and enigmatic 19th-century explorer John Frémont in this rich if overstuffed survival tale. The story begins in 1847 with Frémont losing a court-martial for mutiny and disobedience, but Frémont isn't down for long: his senator father-in-law gets Frémont set up to conduct a survey for a proposed railroad line connecting St. Louis and San Francisco. A revolving cast of narrators—Frémont, other historical figures, and fictional characters—chronicle the expedition into the Colorado mountains as winter begins, and it becomes apparent that they are falling behind schedule and are ever closer to starvation or freezing to death. Wheeler skillfully depicts the extreme conditions (King was gaunt and drawn, the flesh gone from his face, his eyes sunk in pits.... Williams had crawled inside himself. There were great icicles hanging from his beard), though the attentions of many narrators can tend toward the redundant and slow down what is otherwise a dramatic and colorful epic that should hook even those who already know how everything turns out. (Mar.)
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John Charles Fremont (1813–90), the mathematics teacher, military man, presidential candidate, and explorer, lived a storied life. In this novel, Wheeler focuses on Fremont’s fourth expedition to forge a railway route along the thirty-eighth parallel, connecting St. Louis with San Francisco. Wheeler, who notes that accounts of Fremont’s life vary greatly, portrays the explorer as a deeply contradictory man: courageous but self-centered; remote but highly respected; reckless but methodical. Fremont’s fourth expedition was his most disastrous (several members of his team died), and Wheeler’s decision to concentrate on it, rather than an episode from Fremont’s military or political career, makes perfect sense: it allows the author to show us the man in all his mercurial glory, the famed explorer who will risk everything, including his own life, to break new ground. Good reading both for western-genre fans and readers of historical fiction. --David Pitt
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