Vali Benson may not be an Arizonan native, but living in Tucson, nearly in the Wild West itself, she may as well be. Author of Blood and Silver, Benson started and sold two successful businesses before turning her attention to writing. Periodicals such as History Magazine have published several of her articles. She is also a member of the Western Writers of America.
My Thoughts about Blood and Silver
For me, growing up in Arizona meant regular visits to Payson, camping, boating, and hiking. Believe it or not, I never saw the Grand Canyon until the end of my sophomore year of high school. It had been deemed “too touristy” by my parents. The same was true of Tombstone.
When my two oldest children were under five, I often talked to my husband about traveling to Tombstone. “We could watch some of the re-enactments and enjoy ourselves for a day,” I told him. But my oldest had reached the same age I had when I saw the canyon for the first time before we visited Tombstone. In June. On what became the hottest day of that year.
Still, we had a wonderful time, and my husband and I have stopped back for more fun a couple of times since then.
Obviously, the notion of reviewing Blood and Silver, a book set in an Arizona historic town that I enjoy, sounded perfect. And I had a good experience reading it.
In Blood and Silver, the twelve-year-old Carissa wants nothing more than to help her laudanum-addicted mother out of the life the madam tricked her into. Prostitution. In Tombstone, the kindness of others provides her with friends and a plan. Once she meets China Mary, Carissa receives all the help she needs and a little more.
Benson does an amazing job at recreating China Mary, the real-life woman who ran Hoptown (an area of Tombstone where the Chinese resided). China Mary may have dealt in grays by running opium dens and the Chinese prostitutes among other questionable business opportunities, but she also provided care for those who couldn’t care for themselves. Benson’s novel reveals this in a way that middle graders and teens can enjoy. Parents will appreciate the absolute cleanliness of the book. Something difficult to imagine considering the subject matter.
I enjoyed some of the fun ways Benson brought Tombstone into the novel’s pages. For instance, Carissa’s mother is Lisette–a prostitute addicted to laudanum. Though not the same woman, real-life Lizette the Flying Nymph worked at the Bird Cage Theatre and, like many of that era, had an opium addiction. I also enjoyed the way Benson included a particularly fun secret about the Grand Hotel in the story line of her book.
Blood and Silver comes to us as an easy-read that can all ages can enjoy. The writing is free from major error and keeps the reader entertained from start to finish.
The Not As Good
Blood and Silver includes many wonderful descriptions of Tombstone’s history. Most of them are so well researched that I immediately recognized the work Benson put into learning about the town. So it surprised me when she used a modern medical treatment for drug addiction. She may have chosen this anachronism on purpose. Especially since the treatments for drug addiction during that period of time were heinous and more likely to kill a person than help.
The addition of anachronisms isn’t new to writing or art. Artists and authors include them regularly. Sometimes on purpose, sometimes not. When I consider its use in Blood and Silver, I can understand why it’s there. Young readers aren’t looking for realism as much as adults do. And, as parents, we want them reading uplifting literature. If a book sparks an interest in something, even better!
I also discovered a couple of unlikely but possible scenarios that stuck out to me; however, they were minor and probably stuck out because of my own research obsession.
I vacillated about including the above thoughts, but the anachronism and a few other minor details affected how I read the book (ready to research at any moment), so I decided to include them. If you read the book with knowledge of these inclusions, I have little doubt that you’ll enjoy it.
The official blurb of Blood and Silver
What is a twelve-year-old girl to do when she finds herself in the silver boom town of Tombstone, Arizona, in 1880, and her only home is a brothel and her only parent is a drug-addicted mother? If she is Carissa Beaumont, she outsmarts the evil madam and figures a way out.
After tricking the madam, Miss Lucille, into summoning a doctor for her mother, Lisette, she discovers that Miss Lucille has been drugging her. She and the kind doctor make a plan to try to save Lisette by dosing her down on the drug.
Doctor Henderson tells Carissa that the only source for the drug is a Chinese immigrant named China Mary, who lives in Hoptown, at the other end of Tombstone. Carissa has no choice but to go to the powerful woman for help. Many say that China Mary is the one who really controls Tombstone.
China Mary admires Carissa’s brave spirit, and uses her influence to get her a job at the new Grand Hotel, which will free Carissa from her many duties at Miss Lucille’s. She will work along with Mary’s twelve year old niece, Mai-Lin. The two girls become fast friends.
Purchase your copy of Blood and Silver on Amazon.
I received a free copy of this book for review. All opinions are honest and my own.