In the Shadow of Gold: A Tale of the Lost Confederate Treasure by Michael Kenneth Smith. Independently Published, 2020. Paper, ISBN: 979-8684953736. $14.99.
What happened to the gold that stocked the Confederate treasury? It’s a question that has puzzled researchers, myth-chasers, and treasure hunters for decades. In his latest historical novel, Michael Kenneth Smith spins an intriguing tale packed with adventure, a dash of romance, and a new look at the meanings of freedom.
Main character Yancey Arvindale is a spunky lad who endearingly ignores the expectations of his world and the reader alike. He yearns for freedom from the demanding expectations of his family. From his seasickness, which prevents him from serving aboard ships like his famous father, to his clever treasure codes and kind-hearted actions, Yancey’s character is a spark of humanity set against the darkness of the war’s final days.
Smith supplies an interesting and successful parallel to Yancey in the character of Ellie, an enslaved woman who runs from the abuse and trauma of the plantation. Ellie finds purpose, meaning, and freedom in unexpected ways—especially when her path crosses with Yancey’s. Intertwining the stories of his two protagonists, Smith offers a powerful meditation on two very different types of freedom and the meaning of liberty.
In the Shadow of Gold clips along at a fast pace, but without sacrificing detail or historical cameos. The story approximates the actual historical timeline of the Confederate government’s flight from Richmond. The plot features major stops along the route of the fugitive rebels. Smith also spotlights the Confederate Naval Academy Cadets who guarded the exiled government’s treasury.
Ellie’s story helps to highlight the fact that slavery existed until the ratification of the 13th Amendment; her fictional experiences parallel those of real enslaved women who sought meaningful freedom. The plot also underscores the extreme hardships of hunger and disease that many formerly enslaved families faced after the war.
In a concluding historical note, Smith comments on his novel’s historical accuracy and the cameos made by real and lesser-known historical figures.
No one really knows what happened to the Confederate gold, though rumors and tales abound. From the known facts and lingering legends, veteran author Michael Kenneth Smith has spun another unique tale. The novel’s themes offer thoughtful and sometimes direct commentary on issues of inequality and racial injustice, drawing a hopeful picture against a dark historical background. In their search for personal freedom, the novel’s protagonists provide encouragement.
This is a historical novel for our own challenging times.
Sarah Kay Bierle serves as the Managing Editor of the Emerging Civil War blog. She has authored four books, including several works of historical fiction.