The Indifferent Stars Above: The Harrowing Saga of a Donner Party Bride by Daniel James Brown
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Do you remember playing Oregon Trail in middle school? God, I loved that game. You earned some outrageous score for completing it as a school teacher, but I think I only managed that a couple times. Beating it as a banker was a foregone conclusion. You just bought extras of everything wagon related, lots of ammo, and made your party the maximum size. Sure, Mary-Ann, Todd, and Uncle Biff were almost certain to get lost, come down with malaria, or get bit by a snake, but if you had enough people in your party you were all but guaranteed to win.
The first third of the book covers familiar territory for any one who loved Oregon Trail (or the Little House on the Prairie series). Daniel James Brown is an excellent lister. He loving describes all the supplies that each family brought, including food, and extra axles and tongues. He also described the fire arms that people would have brought, as so essentially archaic that it made me question the hunting dynamic of Oregon Trail. That was one of the most fun parts of the game, but as it turns out a good bow and arrow probably fired with more speed and accuracy.
After about the first third of the book, the book becomes misery followed by more misery with a misery cherry on top. It's Christmas: let's boil a little more buffalo hide and have a handful of nuts! It doesn't get better from there. Around page 200 there's a cliffhanger a la "but his troubles were just beginning." I nearly stopped reading right there. I mean enough is enough. But while the writing left something to be desired, the author's research was excellent. While exhausting, the content was as compelling as a suspense-thriller-horror story.
One small note: I think the title of this is pretty misleading. Okay, so I can't verify whether the stars were in fact indifferent, but the subtitle concerning the bride felt pretty irrelevant to me. It's possible the story spent a little more time on her, but mostly she just felt like one more in a fairly long list of characters.
Anyway, it all makes me wonder, with the many upgrades to Oregon Trail over the years, why did they never release a Donner party edition?
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