Blaine tells the story of a man who traverses the Old West to try to cure his consumption in this debut historical novel.
In the mid-19th century, the itinerant Vlad D’Agostino arrives in New York City after a long stay in Japan, bringing with him a samurai mask and a terminal case of tuberculosis. In Manhattan, he learns of an innovative doctor who claims to have found a treatment for the disease using “alpine air,” but Vlad will have to travel to the physician’s clinic in the Rocky Mountains, in a place known as Never Summer. With only months to live, Vlad sets out for the West with his mask and a stolen revolver, which bears the same enigmatic mark as the necklace his mother left him at the orphanage where he was raised. The Oregon Trail is fraught with danger and adventure. On his quest to save himself and prolong his life, he inadvertently makes discoveries about his traumatic past—and about how to live more fully in the present. “It is said that those with the Romantic Disease become poetic as the body is relinquished to consumption,” he’s told early on by an aspiring painter, who offers Vlad a picture of himself on his deathbed. “Inspiration is so eager to emerge that it burns up the body from within.” Blaine imbues his novel with the true spirit of the so-called “Romantic Disease,” weaving into his tale all the vigor and moodiness that one would expect of a Byronic hero’s adventures in the American West. The author attempts to summon some of the formality of the Victorian setting in the book’s language, although this leads to occasionally excessive verbosity: “Vlad believed her remark about the appeal in his appearance was ridiculous, but it left him pondering over the implications. Perhaps he and Molly shared an attraction.” The story doesn’t read like just another submission in the Western genre, however; Vlad is a thoughtful hero, and Blaine seems just as interested in evoking Herman Melville’s work as he is Zane Grey’s. Adventure fans of all stripes will find something compelling in the tragic, mysterious protagonist.
An original, philosophically minded Western adventure. – Kirkus Reviews