Fall, in western North Carolina, is ginseng season—when locals take to the forest in search of the ever-elusive forest plant referred to as “green gold”. For centuries, its roots have been traded to Asia via the byways and backwoods of rural Appalachia—part of a billion-dollar global industry from which pioneer legend Daniel Boone made a fortune two centuries ago. Tucker Trivette and his younger brother, Danny, learn the ways of the woods from their grandfather. He shows them how to take what they need from the forest to make up for what their indigent parents can’t provide. Ginseng pays the bills.
Over the years, though, the valuable plant has become even harder to find, as poachers have scoured the coves for a quick dollar. But Paw Paw has patches hidden throughout the mountains. Secret places noted over decades in a well-worn journal. He dies before Tucker can learn them all. Before leaving home to follow his grandfather’s footsteps in the Navy, Tucker discovers and plants a large stash of ginseng seed, presumably left by his Paw Paw.
Years later, on his last shore leave in Hong Kong, Tucker meets Wei, an attractive and business-savvy native who is a buyer for her father, Andy Ling, a member of the ginseng guild that controls the flow of ginseng root to China. Tucker shares with them his “heritage” with the plant and promises to supply a plentiful bounty from his own plantation when he returns home. After seven years, it’s ripe for harvest and Tucker is ready to cash in for his future.
Upon returning home, Tucker’s hopes are dashed. He discovers his homeplace burned to the ground, his family gone, and the acres of ginseng he planted to jumpstart his future stolen. Left with nothing, Tucker seeks advice from Allie—a feisty tomboy from his past who is now the county’s Agricultural Agent. The love-hate relationship from their youth persists.
Desperate to get out of his financial straits, Tucker finds work with a tough but friendly crew of Latino workers on a Christmas tree farm owned by his steely neighbor, Clint, who has some secrets of his own. Tucker also calls on his Navy buddy, Sam—a quick-witted Alabama-boy not accustomed to mountain ways—to enlist his help hunting for any patches of ginseng that might remain. They are set upon by a nemesis from Tucker’s youth, Harlan Ward (aka “Rat”), who is after the same thing: the price is up on ginseng, and Rat and his posse of delinquents are hoping to cash in, too. They are convinced that Tucker is in possession of his grandfather’s old journal and doggedly pursue him to harvest the hidden patches before he does.
Just as Tucker has lost all hope, an old acquaintance, an off-the-books ginseng and gun dealer, Zebulon Greene, slips him an unexpected surprise: Paw Paw’s journal, which somehow survived the fire. Following his grandfather’s arcane notes, Tucker hikes deep into the wilderness to a significant patch of ginseng; but Rat and his posse follow him. They beat him soundly, take his stash, and leave Tucker for dead, tied securely to a tree in the middle of nowhere. Tucker regains consciousness to the sound of someone cutting his bonds…his brother, Danny. He’s been living in the woods, relying on what the forest provides since the fire that claimed the homestead and their parents, believing that he was the one blamed for starting it. Danny had entrusted the journal to Zebulon, hoping that Tucker would eventually find him. Danny shows Tucker the other reason he’s been living in the forest—the enormous patch of hidden ginseng that he’s been tending since they were kids…And it’s worth a fortune.
Plot/Idea: 10 out of 10
Originality: 10 out of 10
Prose: 10 out of 10
Character/Execution: 10 out of 10
Overall: 10.00 out of 10
Plot: Overall, the novel delivers a well-executed narrative that is easy to get lost in; transports readers to a different world; and allows the imagination to run wild. Readers can feel the Appalachian community culture through this page-turner of a novel. The plotline twists and turns are engaging, the tension is just right, and the unlikely hero provides a pleasant surprise.
Prose/Style: The author has a fun and entertaining style of writing that reads like a movie. It allows for readers to become entirely immersed and carried away by the protagonist's quest.
Originality: The author's experience with natural and cultural history shines through, lending credibility to the story. Although the account is a work of fiction, this type of personal narrative intimately welcomes audiences into a world they otherwise would never experience.
Character Development: The characters are memorable, showcasing a satisfying depth of internal conflict, personal development, motivation, nuance, and complexity. They provide spunk and fresh uniqueness that carry the story well.
Date Submitted: June 30, 2020