Part of the reason I chose this book was its stunning cover of a full moon rising over the mountains. Having seen these mountains several times, I knew them to be near Aspen, Colorado. My other reason is a love for historical fiction of the American West. The Author’s Note makes clear that the setting is based on the history of real-life Colorado towns of Marble and Dearfield, which are also near Aspen. My family has visited Marble several times while driving the scenic byways of Colorado. The author’s descriptions of the town, surrounding mountains, and the mining operation are perfect. With the term Gilded in the book title, it is obvious that the book deals with the haves and have-nots of the gilded age. That robber baron millionaires became billionaires on the backs of immigrant workers for whom they had no regard is a theme throughout the novel. I had previously read Cripple Creek Days by Mabel Barbee Lee and thought this book would be much like it. It definitely was not; Kate Manning provides an excellent social commentary on the struggle for safe working conditions, fair pay, and decent hours in the early 20th century.
Sylvie, the main character, was strong and competent. I loved her “silent comments” on what she thought of or wanted to do to many of characters she had to deal with. Yet Sylvie’s relationship with the son of the owner left me cold. I found him to be weak, spoiled, without loyalty, unable to see anything, etc. and simply could not understand how the author thought it was a good move to pair him with Sylvie. The story progressed nicely, but there were times that I hoped for better, more descriptive writing. Overall, I do recommend this book for anyone who enjoys historical fiction of the American West or who wants to learn something of Colorado’s mining and labor history.