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  • Writer's pictureChrissy's Books

The Cold Millions by Jess Walter

Updated: Nov 30, 2020

Rating - 8/10

I remember seeing this book on the BookBub website (book recommendation site) and thought oh wow, I love the cover and title of this book! Something about the title drew me in and I do love to read an adventure story every now and then. After reading the blurb, I was sold! How gorgeous are these deep blues on the cover. I would love to thank Harper books for sending me an advance review copy of this read! It took me so long to read this book because life was not allowing me to get stuck into it. But alas! Here is my review of this read. The Cold Millions is now on sale and you can read my review below and purchase it all in one go! Haha On to the review.


The setting is the Northwest frontier of the early 1900s.

We follow two adventure seeking brothers named Rye & Gig Dolan. They live by their wits jumping freight trains and trying to line up day work at crooked agencies. Ryland is 16 years old and yearns for stability and a good home, while his dashing 21 year old brother Gregory follows his heart and dreams of a better world fighting alongside union workers for fair pay and some decent treatment. On their travels they come across a mysterious woman named Ursula the Great, a vaudeville singer who performs with a cougar, and introduces the two brothers to a dangerous man. A powerful and ruthless mining magnate who will stop at nothing to keep all of his money as well as Ursula by his side.

Rye meets a young fearless and outspoken activist & feminist named Elizabeth Gurley Finn, he gets completely swept up in her passionate workers’ cause but alas, a storm is brewing and Rye will be forced to decide where he stands in all of it. Is it all worth it to win the occasional battle, even if you can never win the war?

This is an intimate story of brotherhood, sacrifice & betrayal set against the stunning backdrop of an early 20th century America that is very relevant to our current time.

My Review:

I love a good adventure book and also this also had a mix of historical fiction in it which I very much appreciated. You are completely transported way back to a time long gone and it truly felt like you were right there in the chilly pacific northwest, jumping in and out of those freight trains and feeling that blast of cold air on your face. The weird thing is, it took me a while to fully settle into the story or I should say, the writing style of the book. There was something quite I guess distant in the way Walter wrote this book. But not in a negative way at all, just different! I ended up loving his writing style a lot in the end.

Jess Walter truly transported you in this book and I seriously felt like I was right there with the two brothers having these amazing and intense experiences that they were all having. It sort of reminded me of the writing style of the novel, On The Road by Jack Kerouac, but The Cold Millions to me, had more grit & had more heart.

I’m going to give you the main features that I loved about this book. Right off the bat you are transported across all of these amazing states, and a lot of the places he mentions I actually visited during my road trip across the US last year! So for me, it was a really visual experience. He takes us through Montana, Idaho, Seattle, WA, and a lot of it was based in Spokane, WA. So you can truly imagine the awesome scenery of this epic book. This was all brought together by the eclectic mix of characters of this book. I loved the relationship between Rye & Gig, it was quite believable, they had no one else in this world other than each other. That deep brotherly bond worked amazingly well with the setting, the political turmoil, and activism story of this book. I loved the sort of free, do what ya gotta do attitude of the brothers’ lives of which they basically went where the work was. Spokane was one of the main boom areas where it was all happening. The protests, work, a possible home for Rye, I genuinely loved the setting of this book a lot and it was fascinating to experience that electric atmosphere in this book.

I also learned a lot about the history of the IWW - the Industrial Workers of the World, most commonly known as the Wobblies. *Fun Fact: They were founded in Chicago, IL in 1905 as one big union to cut across all industries and trades. It’s fascinating to learn about all of this in case you were unfamiliar. Walter openly delved into this specific time in the west and sort of showed us from the viewpoint of the brothers and a few other key characters, what it was really like in this time and period when the IWW were starting to kick off. Walter centered the book on the real-life free speech demonstrations that happened in Spokane. I loved this mix of real life elements of the book and it really took shape towards the middle of the book and well into the end of the story. I loved it!

I loved that Walter used real life activists in this book such as Elizabeth Gurley Flynn who was a real life labor leader, feminist and activist who played a very important role in the IWW, and played a major role in women’s rights, birth control and much more. It made me love it even more! I appreciate that Jess Walter took the time to truly research his history in this book and you could tell that a lot of work had gone into writing this novel. I was well impressed.

I have to keep it real and tell you guys that I knew very little of the Wobblies and the amount of turmoil that everyday people went through during these time periods so I, personally, learned a lot by reading this book! It offers a cold dose of reality into the endless struggle of a working man, the underdogs, and the fight for better working conditions. I loved that he told the stories of the unsung heroes that fought for their workers rights and he focused on the everyday man. Also, what a title!

The varied range of characters in this book were fantastic. Obviously we see this world through the two brothers’ eyes, but included in this book were all kinds of great characters such as, crooked cops, fresh off the boat immigrants, Native Americans, socialists, amazing performers, I could go on and on. I just loved the plethora of rich characters that Walter brought to this story.

My only negative comment was that personally for me, it took a little while to get into the book, I think it was due to the writing style of the book, but I will say that once I did, I was hooked! Like I was in it!! It's almost like I had to get used to the way he wrote, but once I did, I loved it. Excellent storyteller!

If you want to get transported to a time long gone, into the wilderness of the north pacific west, and the growing mix of frontier/civilized bustling town of Spokane and to also learn about the IWW and what it must have been like for people just trying to live and have rights in the workplace. Read this book! Also, it’s a perfect read for the winter season! The Cold Millions offers readers a 360 portrait of a time and nation grappling with the differences between rich & poor as well as harsh realities & simple dreams. Filled with rich characters and a stunner of a backdrop, I would highly recommend this read to any adventure and historical fiction lovers out there.

Song Pick:

I do love to pair songs with books, and for this read, I wanted to pick a song that spoke to the core of this story that Walters wrote about, the ongoing struggle and fight for basic workers rights and the unions organizations. My song pick is 'Which Side Are You On' by Pete Seeger. This song was written in 1931 by activist, Florence Reece, the wife of Sam Reece who was a Union Organizer for the United Mine Workers in Kentucky. Very fitting I reckon. It's a good song too!

Genre: Historical Fiction | Western Fiction | Adventure

Publication Date: October 27, 2020

Pages: 352 Pages

Publisher: Harper

Reviewed by Chrissy's Books



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