CM . . .
. Volume XXIII Number 32. . . April 28, 2017
A group of seven British children are invited once again by their uncle Captain Gunn to Canada during the summer break for another exciting adventure, this time to the interior of British Columbia to travel on a cattle drive with real cowboys in the Okanagan Valley. As they ride with the cowboys transporting hundreds of cattle from one ranch to another, they recognize a young cowboy apprentice as Norm, one of the pirate gang that terrorized them in the previous book in the series, Brother XII’s Treasure. When they reach their destination, they find that Norm has stolen some of their gear, and so they head off alone to retrace their steps and find Norm injured and trapped in an abandoned silver mine, which they discover still has some recoverable ore. Bringing Norm to safety, they learn that a retiring rancher has left his property to a program for poor orphans. Feeling sorry for Norm after they hear his life story, they convince the ranch to take him on. Meanwhile, Captain Gunn registers the mine, and they all plan to share in its proceeds.
Like Brother XII’s Treasure, The Silver Lining is a rather innocuous adventure that is filled with the sights, sounds, and facts of life in a remote corner of Canada. Rather than sailing, the life and industry of ranchers and cowboys is depicted in accessible detail, set against the backdrop of seven children with differing temperaments and talents.
But even more than the previous book, the plotline is rather thin and not often satisfying. In fact, there is really no plot until almost halfway through the book when Norm’s identity is confirmed by his theft. The resolution is too perfect, with little in the way of conflict or obstacle. The children hear his tale of poverty and indignity, realize their own comparative privilege, and then solve the problem in one fell swoop. The discovery of the mine and its still-abundant silver adds excitement but comes across as even more over-the-top in its perfection.
As with Norm, the empathy introduced for downtrodden characters is real, but it often seems contrived. Chinese ranch cook Wee Tan explains how he left his family behind 20 years prior, but it seems overshadowed in the narrative by his uncomplaining skill at wilderness cooking (no mention is made of a head tax, either). And while the kids’ different personalities add considerable depth to the narrative, their conflicts are almost too easily resolved, as in the excerpt above, and their talents and achievements are consistently a bit too close to perfection.
Still, it is hard to overlook the depth of research and authenticity to the locale, the people, and the way of life on the range, and cowboys are presented less as romantic heroes and more like skilled and intelligent businesspeople. With a shortage of surprises and a dearth of meaty conflict, The Silver Lining is, nonetheless, exciting in its own way.
Recommended with Reservations.
Todd Kyle is the CEO of the Newmarket Public Library in Ontario and Past-President of the Ontario Library Association.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.