Overview (No Spoilers):
Aaron delivers a novel twist on the wild, wild west with The Last Stand of Mary Good Crow. When a deposit of crystal with magical properties is discovered, a new ‘gold rush’ sets up an environment that is rife with shady dealings and where dangerous characters run rampant. This story has layers upon layers of conflict and depth derived from the prejudice against the Lakota people, both from a military aspect to that of the prospect miners. Another key layer of tension centers around the dealings between the miners and the military. The military’s presence is complicated as they serve to provide protection for the miners, while also taxing the wealth streaming out of the mines.
The Last Stand of Mary Good Crow follows three very distinct women with widely varying backstories. While those points of conflict mentioned above are at the surface of the literary world Aaron has created, the aforementioned prejudices are an everyday threat against the talented Mary Good Crow, whose skill at seeking out crystal seems to defy the norm. On the other end of the social spectrum, Miss Josie Price is struggling against oppressive gender bias, typical of that time period, but amplified as she has inherited her Uncle’s mining company, which holds its own, more than ample share of mystery and drama. The other key perspective is of infamous Rel, who grants us access to the inner workings of the notorious Wet Whistle Saloon, but is aggressively haunted by their past and the pressures of wielding unique crystal powers whose source only comes to light when it is far too late.
The mine and caves are such an interesting, albeit dangerous fantasy world to explore with the crystal veins causing strange, seemingly magical events to happen underground, from shifting tunnels to the horrors of The Dark. Other magical aspects of the cave that were only mentioned in passing are the unexpected Holes, Cave Ash, and Slips that are poised to trip up even the most prepared explorer.
As someone who gets mild claustrophobia, the description of the path needed to reach the Deep Caves was slightly triggering as the would-be prospectors find themselves squeezed in a most uncomfortable wiggle, scooch, and panic to reach the far side. During that sweat-inducing section, all I could think of was what insane individual would have first found, let alone discovered this hole to the Deep Caves, especially with the magical properties of the newly discovered section playing its own tricks. Additionally, the dread was palpable as the return path would require miners to trek along these same tight spaces to get back to the surface. No thank you.
The worldbuilding and descriptions of the mines/caves felt so rich with potential that it felt like only the barest of surfaces were surveyed. That said, so far in this review I’ve only touched on the cave environments, let alone the vast applications of the crystal itself. With seemingly limitless uses, Last Stand of Mary Good Crow finds crystal sewn into the skin, incorporated into guns, drank, and used for medical procedures. Additionally, different hues of crystal yields different properties, making the unexplored aspects of this power from a story writing perspective a
gold crystal mine. That said, the lack of limitations on this power felt too open ended and a convenient solution by the end of this novel. The mining of the fragile crystal was another component that was left relatively vague, especially as there was a very specific procedure to properly harvest the valuable rock. With so many new people are rushing to get rich quick, who figured out the correct way to mine crystal?
Josie’s tunnel vision toward profit seems starkly out of character, especially as the blinders are still firmly in place when encountering and discovering field changing wonders. When more of her backstory comes to light it lends some justification to her off key decisions, even when she was blind to the pains her actions put others in. Rel also suffered from being locked into bad decisions by her motivations and past. Both characters’ repeated poor and rushed choices grew frustrating by the end as neither woman seemed to evolve beyond the initial roles they were developed to fill.
Seventy five percent of the way through this read I couldn’t stop talking about this literary world, particularly the fantasy elements. I was so excited to see how Aaron would tie the many revolving pieces together for a grand finale and while the ending was full of revelations, the major implications fell flat as the last quarter of the book felt rushed and only partially fleshed out. Appropriately for the western setting, Aaron did include an action-packed, old-fashioned gun fight with the added fantasy elements twisted throughout. Overall, The Last Stand of Mary Good Crow brings a brilliant story idea to life with vivid worldbuilding and fascinating characters, but misfires on an ending that doesn’t hold the same punch as the wonders of the bulk of this read.
Additional Insight (Spoilers Abound):
- What would have happened if the military had used the armored wagons that Townsend had brought with him?
- What happened to Sheriff Brightman throughout the remainder of the novel? We saw him when Josie arrived, but he was noticeably absent the rest of the novel.
- What other applications are there for the crystal in the medical field?
- Can anyone else ‘hear’ the crystal other than Josie’s uncle and Mary?
- Seeing ghosts in The Dark and for Reliance when she is under the influence of crystal seems to be a unique thing for her. Could other people see them if crystal is ingested?
- Who killed Reliance’s family?
- How are the Whitman’s and the Lakota so powerful with the crystal? How can they be stopped?
- How much of the precious Crystal Cave was damaged in the gunfight?
- Who is Vorchista and what are her motivations? Why is she so strange?
- How did Rel’s family go from rubbing elbows with the Price’s to necromancy in the far west?
- What other magical abnormalities are present in the cave other than The Dark, Cave Ash, Holes, and Slips?
- What makes The Dark?
- How are the Deep Caves always changing, even in the blink of an eye?
- How is the real Josie Price managing in St. Louis?
Cotillion: an elaborate dance with frequent changing of partners carried out under the leadership of one couple at formal balls
Hied: to go quickly
Ambulatory: moving from place to place