Aiden and Maddy are live on the remains of the family farm. Drought ravaged Kansas, and disease followed. Aiden and Maddy are orphans, keeping alive by eating grasshoppers, clay, and whatever else they can get their hands on.
When Jefferson J. Jackson encounters the two youngsters, he doesn’t know what to think. It feels wrong to just leave them on their own, but he is a business man first and foremost, and he has a job to do: guide people along the two thousand mile long Oregon Trail.
Jackson makes a deal with Aiden and Maddy. He will pay for their equipment, food, and transport to Seattle, but on one condition. Jackson gets bounty money for bringing in men to work in the Seattle lumber camps, and if he pays for Aiden and Maddy’s transport, then Aiden will have to work to pay off his debt.
Aiden and Maddy jump at the chance, for it is their only hope of leaving Kansas and making a new life. But Jackson knows the full danger of the Oregon trail. “There’s a grave a mil on the Oregon Trail.” According to Jackson there are plenty of ways to die on the trail, its staying alive that’s difficult.
Aiden and Maddy experience firsthand the danger of the trail as they face smallpox, Indians, and tragic accidents.
When Maddy is drowned in a ferry accident, Aiden looses all hope for the future. And he knows that when he gets to Seattle, he still faces years of hard work to pay off the debt of both him and his dead sisters.
I didn’t think that “Devil’s Paintbox” was anywhere near as satisfying as Victoria McKernan’s book “Shackleton’s Stowaway.” The plot itself is very tragic, with a poor sense of resolution. McKernan attempts to create a sort of symbolic conclusion, but it falls flat.
Aiden gets worse and worse as the story continues. By the time the book ends he has killed two men: one purposely because he was breaking a smallpox quarantine and endangering other people, and another by accident. At the lumber camp in Seatlle Aiden participates in prize fights for money, and associates with whores hired by the camp owners to keep the men happy.
All in all, I did not think that “Devil’s Paintbox” by Victoria McKernan was a very good book. The plot was disappointing, the characters extremely rough, and the morals slightly twisted. I wouldn’t recommend “Devil’s Paintbox.”
Inkweaver Book Rating: