Auraria is one of those books that don’t always make sense, but that’s okay. In real life, Auraria is an old gold mining town in Georgia that went defunct after a while. In the book, however, it is much, much more.
James Holtzclaw has come to Auraria at the behest of his employer, Mr. Shadburn, to buy all the land in the town. Shadburn has plans to develop the place, and Holtzclaw is told to use whatever methods he can to get the inhabitants to sell. But Auraria is a stranger place than he expected, with fish swimming through fog, a ghost that plays piano at the inn, and an invincible terrapin who still sing the old songs. And there is gold everywhere, washed away when the moon maidens come to bathe in the river.
Holtzclaw finds himself uneasily traversing the strange landscape, aided (and hindered) by the water spirit Princess Trahlyta. Even as plans come to fruition, he finds there are stranger things to come-many of which are found within himself.
I wanted to like this book more than I did. I loved the mixture of mythology, folklore, and Southern mountain culture. The characters were colorful and sympathetic, and the entire plan behind the development of Auraria was actually brilliant. However, it had some weak points that I can’t overcome.
The first problem is with Holtzclaw himself. While I think we were meant to see someone slowly getting used to the strangeness, his initial reactions were more of dull surprise than fear or confusion. He never seemed to really react to the odd things he encountered. He simply dusted himself off and carried on. I expected him to get to that point after being in Auraria for a while, but he started out this way. He does have character development, but of a different sort.
Overall, the story has a very simplistic moral to it, which I think fits well with the Southern folklore theme. However, it feels like Tim Westover was hammering it in pretty hard. Much of the book is more of interconnected events that all seem to wind up demonstrating the moral. The ending itself demonstrates that Holtzclaw finally gets it (and I was quite happy with the ending), but I feel like the middle of the book got a bit boring overall. It lagged in places, and Westover probably could have shortened the book without losing any of it.
That said, this was a good book, and an enjoyable one. It’s a slow read, and one to take your time on, but it’s well worth it. It left me with a bittersweet feeling, a look into a forgotten world where the supernatural was considered to exist alongside mortals without anyone blinking an eye.