Review of The Lamp and Lantern by A.E. Vaughn

41qh2iBbcaLSummary: The first series in the Lamp & Lantern contains ten episodes that portray a search for a legendary fictional gold mine lost in a cursed region of the northern Rocky Mountains. Along the way the cast of characters are drawn together by a common lust for gold as they reminisce about the past, speculate about the lost fortune, and share in the success and misfortune of those around them. In their pursuit of the lost mine they endure a myriad of challenges from this world and the next.

The target audience crosses between those that enjoy modern stories and television about outdoorsmen, survival, gold fever, and paranormal and unexplained mysteries. It brings many historical and modern concepts together to provide a new twist on a gold rush in today’s world. The manuscript simultaneously comments on people, large corporate deception, and greed while being intertwined with the reinvention of love in the main characters eyes.

During the first series the reader meets Jonathan Daxter, who spent much of his childhood with his grandfather and uncle searching a remote section in northern Idaho for the Lost Lamp gold mine. After growing up and moving away, Jon returns home upon the passing of his grandfather. He soon realizes that he has reached a breaking point in his career and relationship, and rekindles his long forgotten lust for the lost mine as a way out of middle class normalcy. Jon gathers a team of trusted friends and colleagues with whom he pieces together clues from stories and maps forgotten in history. Along the way they navigate through difficult mountainous terrain, encounter eccentric people, stumble upon clues lost in time, and cross over into a seemingly paranormal world lost in the remoteness and mystery of the area. In the end of the first part of the series the reader is left to believe that certain team members have fallen, others have split, and others may have indeed stumbled upon the Lost Lamp mine – and perhaps much more.

Note: I was given a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

The novel opens with a 15-year-old Jon Daxter out in the Idaho wilderness with his grandpa Jim and his uncle Roger.  Jim tells his grandson stories about the lost gold mine they are searching for.  Jon knows finding this mine has been his grandpa’s life ambition, and he has gone out into the woods many times in search of it.  Right off the bat, there is a lot of narration used to tell the backstory of the mine.  It feels like the author is eager to give the reader as many details about the legendary mine, and it comes across as an information dump.  It’s too much too soon.  Grandpa Jim is an interesting character, but he could have been rendered more three-dimensional if his character hadn’t been used primarily as a source of giving information.

When Jim has a sudden stroke by a creek upon the trio discovering a symbol of the lamp on a tree, at a place they’ve never been before while on their search, it seems like that’s the end of the journey for Jon.  The narrative fast-forwards twenty years, and Jon is an executive in a large company in corporate America, highly unhappy with his lot in life.  He’s been living with the same woman since college.  The woman, Paige, has nothing better to do than laze about their apartment and watch T.V. and spend all of Jon’s hard-earned money.  Jon is clearly unsatisfied with where his life has gone.  His dreams in his youth have vanished to give way to a bitter, middle-aged man who hates his job and his relationship.  This is an interesting development for Jon’s character.  I like that he is given more of a backstory than just lusting after the gold like his grandfather.

All these years, Grandpa Jim has been catatonic from the stroke.  He has spent most of that time in nursing homes, but he comes home to die.  Jon is called back home because his grandpa is dying.  It’s been years since Jon has been back to Hayden, Idaho.  He sees his grandpa one last time, and miraculously, Grandpa Jim briefly becomes conscious and tells Jon some information regarding the lost gold mine.  He imparts cryptic messages, such as “The lamp lights your way, and the lantern guides you out.”

Jim passes away.  Jon meets up with his old high school buddy, Shim, while out drinking one night at home.  They get to talking about old times and the gold mine.  Shim is a colorful character who has some great lines.  

Then Jon must return to his unhappy life.  He is clearly done with his job.  The reader wants just as much as Jon to be out of his company, a place full of uncompassionate people who are only driven by greed.  While the corruption of a large company like this is believable, I am not sure everyone would be such a jerk as they are shown.  Only one coworker seems to care that Jon lost his grandfather.  This doesn’t match up with my life experience.

Jon finally decides to leave his job and his girlfriend and take up the torch from his grandpa.  He wants to find the lost gold mine.  He returns to Hayden and immediately asks his uncle Roger and his friend Shim to help him.  They begin gathering a group of people to help, those who have skills necessary to navigate through the harsh wilderness.  The group grows in size and meets to discuss what is already known about the mines and what their plans are.

The novel becomes several chapters of the characters sitting around talking about the above. There is very little action. Several characters seems to serve no purpose other than being source of information, so their lengthy paragraphs of dialogue come across as information dumps. People don’t talk like this. If you have a group of seven people sitting around, there is going to be much more exchange in the talking, especially when discussing something as dangerous as cursed mines that are surrounded by all sorts of lore, from ghosts, to landforms that change, to extraterrestrials, to the gate to hell, to wild Indians killing people, to people disappearing when they go looking for the mines, etc.

The idea behind the mines is certainly full of merit. It could make for a high-action, high-suspense, high-mystery, high-thriller tale, if only the characters would actually get off their behinds and get out there and actually search for the gold mines!  We have to wait through 75 percent of the book to finally get to the point of action!

I also like the idea of Jon having a sudden awakening in the middle of his life and realizing he’s been wasting his time doing unfulfilling things, and it taking the death of a loved one to finally snap him into action to make something out of his life. But the ideas alone are not enough. The story lacks a lot of momentum.

There is far too much telling going on, too little action. I would like to see more showing and action. I thought I was going to be reading about a dangerous, life-threatening expedition to find this gold mine, and instead, I feel I have been sitting in a room, growing bored as I listen to a bunch of guys talk and talk and talk. And why is the group just guys? Where is a woman in the crowd?

There are some saving moments of dialogue, especially between Hurk and Travis, two of the guys recruited to go on the trip. But again, it’s just not enough to drive the story forward.

There are also many punctuational errors and spelling errors littered throughout the book. I am not sure if this story went through an editor, but it doesn’t appear to have done so.

I wanted to enjoy this story more, but unfortunately, it just didn’t keep my interest.

2 of out 5 stars

Favorite quote: “The lamp lights your way, and the lantern guides you out.”

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Author: Cynthia "Cyndi" Hilston

Cynthia Hilston is a thirty-something-year-old stay at home mom of three young kids, happily married. Writing has always been like another child to her. After twenty years of waltzing in the world of fan fiction, she finally stepped away to do her debut dance with original works of fiction. In her spare time – what spare time? – she devours books, watches Doctor Who and Game of Thrones, pets her orange kitty, looks at the stars, and dreams of what other stories she wishes to tell.  

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