Although I’ve disliked the cold ever since my army infantry training days, I do like to read about it. The setting is one reason I picked up Revolver, by Marcus Sedgwick. A turn-of-the-century gold field and the environs of an iron mine in the frozen north of Alaska (OK, that north isn’t really frozen all year round but it always makes for a more dramatic description) provide the setting for this adventure novel. While this sounds like the very ingredient of a riveting Jack London story, I should warn you at the outset to be prepared for something slightly different.
The hero is Sig, a 14 year old boy who along with his family becomes a captive of the mining camps when his father catches gold fever. Sig’s entire childhood is spent in this harsh environment because once there his family is too poor to escape. At least that is what Sig believes until the day he finds his father dead and a dangerous man at the cabin door.
As the book progresses the reader gradually learns more details about the family and how it came to be in its predicament. And at the same time the reader, along with Sig, learns an awful lot about the 1873 model Colt revolver owned by Sig’s father. This background story is revealed through interspersed chapters that repeatedly jump back to events of a decade earlier. I’m not a fan of this technique because the breaks keep interrupting the main story line and the action. However, the opinions of other readers may differ.
Sig’s story, which plays out over a day, begins when he finds his father has partially fallen through lake ice and lies dead within sight of the family cabin. Sig retrieves his father’s frozen body by dog sled and, after laying it out on kitchen table, stays with it while his older sister and stepmother go to town for help. The threatening man at the door, who goes by the name of Wolff, demands something Sig knows nothing about. The rest of the story is about Sig’s frightening encounter with Wolff, who turns out to have a long-ago connection to Sig’s father, laid out on the table. Through Wolff, Sig learns that his father was not quite the man he thought he knew so well. Of course the title practically shouts out that the Colt revolver has a role to play in the proceedings.
I won’t reveal the ending, but will say that I found the resolution to the encounter between Sig and Wolff clever but at the same time improbable. What I couldn’t quite buy into was, with Sig’s life and that of his sister both on the line, would a boy of Sig’s age make such a fine moral distinction and take the risky chance he did to resolve the threat.
Because of the many breaks in the action from the repeated flashbacks, this book might better suit adults than young readers, who crave continuing action. Sig is certainly a hero the young reader could identify with, but his character could have been more fully developed for this age group.