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Lily Nevada    by Cecelia Holland order for
Lily Nevada
by Cecelia Holland
Order:  USA  Can
Forge, 2001 (1999)
Hardcover, Softcover
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

This is a sequel to Railroad Schemes, which introduced the young Lily Viner, raised in the mining camps of Virginia City in the 1870's. Lily has fled her violent past, though she is still haunted by it. As this story begins she's the leading lady of a troupe of players on a train heading to San Francisco. Indeed, trains and the railroad loom large through this new episode in Lily's life, just as they did in the first volume.

Years before, Brand, the one-armed railroad detective, was instrumental in the deaths of both Lily's real father and the outlaw who subsequently rescued her. He is trying to track down the individual who penned a threatening letter targeting the president of the Southern Pacific Railroad, when he encounters Lily on the train. He sees someone who 'shrugged those five years up around her like a coat ... lush dark hair, the skin like honey, the gold and crimson of her costume: she looked like a museum piece.' After an attempt on his life, Brand follows the actors to San Francisco.

Like so many of the author's protagonists, Lily is an independent thinker, interested in current events and somewhat at odds with and detached from those around her. She has casual relationships with the other players - a troubled attraction to Charles, who fancies himself as a revolutionary; a lukewarm friendship with Eva, lightweight as an actress; and respect for the young, but paternal, leader of the troupe, David Bellamy. As the troupe performs Hamlet, it is fascinating to read about the evolution of Lily's role as the prince's mother Gertrude. This is a popular (though not initially a critical) success and the actors thrive.

Haunted by her past, Lily searches the city for traces of her mother, whom she vaguely remembers as Dorothea. This takes her all over San Francisco and gives the author the opportunity to paint it in detail for her readers, from the fancy Baldwin Hotel to Chinatown and the waterfront, where she 'saw the ships standing at anchor on the water, their masts stitching the horizon and their hulls mirrored in the Bay'. Lily's development as an actress, her quest to find her mother and her relationships with her fellow players are all engaging. However it is the context of the times, the power wielded by the railroad men, and the resulting labor unrest and riots that I found most interesting in this novel.

Holland does a masterful job of giving her readers a true sense of her settings - in this case, what it was like to be a woman in that period, and in particular what was going on in a country whose development and power structures had long been dominated by the railroad infrastructure. Details like the Californian tolerance for the mad Emperor Norton, only add zest and a charming end to a rousing story which also provides Lily with some closure in her personal life. However, I hope that this is not the last that we will see of this heroine - a third volume would be welcome.

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