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by Tim Westover
QW Publishers, $15.00, 384pp
Published: January 2015

James Holtzclaw is sent by his employer, the mysterious Shadburn - a  man who turns every venture to financial advantage but who cannot manage his files, to buy up all the property in the town of Auraria, a very out-of-the-way place in which gold is often found by the locals. They pay for most of their drinks and meals with gold dust or nuggets, and even mint their own marvelous coins; until the Federal Reserve took exception to this egregious display of independence and confiscated all their molds. Now no gold makes residents happier – or more willing to part with their land, be it farmland or mines or townhomes – than these original coins with their images of bumblebees and chestnut trees and terrapins.

Holtzclaw encounters strange magics from the moment he crosses the border, but he is determined to explain away every instance. Gradually, as he goes about the town with its dozens of springs and waterways, and its cobalt blue lake, he accepts these odd realities, from the moon maidens who leave gold behind them when they bathe to a house that is bigger on the inside than on the outside. Most of the purchases go so smoothly that he begins to pride himself on his acumen, until he comes across Ms. Rathbun. Then the fox is outfoxed, the wolf is fleeced, and the smooth talker is rendered dumb – very much in both senses of the word. Ms. Rathbun is a lady who knows what she wants, and it is not to remain the doctor’s daughter in a town that doesn’t even have a railroad.

When Shadburn finally arrives to set the wheels of progress in motion and build a resort town around a man-made lake, surprising things are revealed, including motives and a stone resort concealed deep underground. By this time, Holtzclaw has almost gone native. As Auraria is transformed, he is a man with a foot in two worlds, which is neither a comfortable nor a tenable position. 

Part Alice in Wonderland, part Lud in the Mist, park Mark Twain, and entirely enchanting, Auraria is one of the most wonder-full stories I have ever read. ~~ Chris R. Paige

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