Story Rating: 4.25 stars
Audio Rating: 4.75 stars
Narrator: Michael Ferraiuolo
Length: 5 hours, 21 minutes
When Robert Belton and his brothers left their Montana home to make their fortunes in the Klondike gold fields, they never imagined they’d be stuck in Seattle penniless. Having turned to prostitution to make money, Robert soon finds himself alone and with nothing left to lose. After six months of being stranded and hearing more and more men talk of the depleting gold fields, Robert is desperate to find someone willing to hire him for an expedition crew. When a well-dressed John is willing to hire Robert for the night and as a fellow prospector, even his mysterious behavior doesn’t deter Robert…at first. Robert soon learns that his John is actually Dr. Jonathan “John” Faust, a scientist and inventor from Chicago in possession of a mysterious device others will do anything to get their hands on, adding even more danger to an already precarious journey.
Unfortunately for Robert, with his body type seen as more suited to bedding than hard labor, no one is willing to take a chance on him (except for those looking for a bedwarmer), and he reluctantly accepts that even with the added danger, John is his best (if not last) chance to reach the fields before they are stripped bare. As the men make their way to the Canadian border and through the Chilkoot Pass, their treacherous, grueling circumstances and shared interests create a bond that transitions into affection and love. However, between the men after John’s device and John’s own zealous commitment to protecting it at all costs, their unrelenting quest for precious metals may cost them something more valuable than platinum and gold.
I chose Noble Metals for Past/Future Week of Reading Challenge Month because the book has been on my TBR list for a while and discovering that the audio had been released earlier this year by one of my favorite narrators seemed like kismet. I found the narration delightful and the story engaging, particularly because while I have read many stories set during the late 1890’s/Gold Rush period, few utilized much beyond the popular western/saloon themes of the times. Noble Metals immerses the reader in the desperation, intensity, and harsh realities and costs that stampeders willingly faced for a chance at finding gold.
Additionally, it incorporates its few steampunk elements so well that I felt like mechs (giant machines used to haul cargo) were totally preferable to packhorses historically. This compelling atmosphere and tone is expressed mostly and quite successfully through John and Robert. For different reasons, each man is willing to risk his life to reach the gold fields and, although the majority of the story is told from Robert’s POV, John’s personality and motivations are conveyed via his journal entries. These entries slowly develop John from someone who can come across as somewhat elitist and snobby to a more nuanced character—someone who has simply been shielded from people outside his class and profession. Moreover, John’s journal entries help reinforce the time period and setting.
I also enjoyed the slow burn of Robert and John’s relationship, as it was fun to see Robert go from trepidatious about John wanting him to continue his role as a sex worker to being desperately in need of John’s touch as the men grow closer. All this pins and needles anxiety, confusion, and so much more are portrayed wonderfully by narrator Michael Ferraiuolo. I’m used to Ferraiuolo producing top-notch audio, but this is one of his best, IMO. Witt does a good job packing in a plethora of emotional experiences in this relatively short novel, and Ferraiuolo brings them to life with such veracity that when John and Robert face a truly harrowing experience late in their journey, I found myself unexpectedly close to tears.
This is a very character-driven story, as the majority of the action stems from the desires that fuel Robert and John’s arduous trek through increasingly treacherous and unforgiving landscapes; even the danger they are almost constantly threatened with is somewhat influenced by their single-minded determination to get to the gold fields. The story being so character-driven actually led to the one sticking point I had, as a choice one of the MCs makes seems so out of character given all of the MANY times when he had been overly cautious before that; I couldn’t help being like, “Really, bruh?” The scenario is presented as him not having a choice, but he had at least one obvious option, making the expected conflict and increased stakes feel more contrived than this tatic may have felt in a story that hadn’t done such a good job pulling me in with its realness.
Overall, though, I truly enjoyed Noble Metals. I liked the relationship development between the two leads, as well as experiencing the incredible difficulty involved in stampeding. The only caveat I have in recommending it is that fans of steampunk may be disappointed by the scarcity of those elements, as outside of the mechs and mentions of airships, the book is predominantly historical in tone. However, if you’re interested in a scientist who meets his match in a tanner turned prostitute as they trek across the frozen northern wilderness, and would probably listen to Michael Ferraiuolo read the telephone book, I definitely recommend the audiobook version of Noble Metals.
This review is part of our Reading Challenge Month for Past/Future Week! Leave a relevant comment below and you will be entered to win one of two great book bundles from Carina Press (you can see the details and full event prize list here)! Commenters will also be entered to win our amazing grand prize sponsored by NineStar Press: a Kindle Paperwhite loaded with 50 NineStar Press books! You can get more information on our Challenge Month here (including all the contest rules) and more details on Past/Future Week here.