Study Guide

The Luminaries Analysis

  • Tone

    Wise and Grandiose

    As we've already discussed in the "Narrator Point of View" section, the narrator takes a kind of uber omniscient perspective on everything that happens in the novel, not only weaving in and out of characters' minds at various points, but also commenting on the astrological and planetary movements that are related to/influencing/symbolic of what's happening with the characters.

    Given the scope of what the narrator claims to know and see, it's not really surprising that the tone of the narration is pretty much larger than life. The quickie chapter that eases us from Part I to Part II really gives us a great example of the tone the narrator adopts in schooling the reader on how the cosmos relates to the characters' life changes over the last three weeks:

    …the planets have changed places against the wheeling canvas of the stars. The Sun has advanced one-twelfth along the tilted wheel of her ecliptic path, and with that motion comes a new world order, a new perspective on the whole. With the Sun in Capricorn we were reserved, exacting, and lofty in our distance. When we looked upon Man, we sought to fix him: we mourned his failures and measured his gifts. We could not imagine what he might have been, had he been tempted to betray his very nature—or had he betrayed himself without temptation, better still. But there is no truth except truth in relation, and heavenly relation is composed of wheels in motion, tilting axes, turning dials; it is a clockwork orchestration that alters every minute, never repeating, never still. (II.1.2)

    This isn't exactly keeping-it-simple, down home straight talk, now is it? But it gives us the sense that there are huge things happening on a scale that goes beyond the characters' lives—I mean, the narrator says that there's a "new world order" in the offing, for crying out loud.

    But if you're feeling overwhelmed by the complexity or hugeness of the shifts and happenings that the narrator describes, don't fret—s/he seems to be able to see and wrap her/his head around everything that's going on, and more than willing to explain (most of) it to us, which definitely makes her/him—and the tone in general—seem pretty wise.

  • Genre

    Historical Fiction

    The novel is set during the 19th century New Zealand gold rush—which, in case you weren't aware, was actually a real thing. Although Catton may have taken some "liberties" with the actual history of this period, there's no doubt that her choice to set her story within a gold rush, with all the promise and possibilities that come with that kind of thing, is incredibly important to understanding where the characters are coming from.

    For example, even when Balfour is trying to sympathize with the sad tale Moody has just told him about his family, he ends up just bursting with enthusiasm about the kind reinvention that you can find in a gold town:

    "I'm sorry for you, Mr. Moody, and commend you, both. But yours is the way of the goldfields, is it not? Reinvention! Dare I say—revolution! That a man might make new—might make himself anew—truly, now!" (I.1.148)

    It may not be the most sensitive of reactions, but Balfour is just so infected with the hopefulness of the times that he can't help himself from telling Moody just to forget the past (ha, easier said than done, as the book goes on to prove) and embrace a very different (and lucrative) future.

    Sure, perhaps the book pays less attention to the nitty gritty of historical details of its era than some other historical fiction, but it definitely uses the historical context to great effect.

  • What's Up With the Title?

    As we've already mentioned elsewhere, the title refers to our solar system's sun and moon—and their correspondents among the book's humans are Anna Wetherell and Emery Staines. It's very important that the reader understand those characters' relationships to the heavenly luminaries, since it sheds a lot of, well, light on their relationships with the rest of the characters and to the plot.

    For example, by discerning that Anna is supposed to represent the sun, you know that pretty much everything is revolves around her, long before you can even begin to understand her full role in the mess the Crown council is discussing. We know that we should keep an eye on her, even when she's not at the front and center of the plot. And the same goes for Emery; we actually know long before we "meet" him that he's one of the luminaries, and so he's probably going to be a big deal.

    In short, the title does a great job of letting us know that two characters who seem secondary at first are actually the two most important characters in the book. Even before we know the "Why," the title tells us the "Who."

  • What's Up With the Ending?

    After waiting around for 800 pages to get to the truth of what happened the night Crosbie Wells died, including a few chapters of flashbacks that seem to be moving right toward those big reveals, the final chapter (which is a page long) basically glides over those details. Blergh.

    The gloss at the beginning, while lengthy, paints the night of January 14th, 1866 in extremely broad brush strokes—and while we get some clues to how Emery Staines might have ended up on Frank Carver's ship, a lot of other mysteries remain unsolved. There are no precise details about how exactly Emery's gold (which is really Crosbie's) got into Crosbie's cabin, or what exactly Frank Carver did to Crosbie Wells. Then, the chapter itself is focused solely on a sweet dialogue between Anna and Emery on that evening, during what was ostensibly their first romantic encounter.

    Hey, we told you that Anna and Emery were the two most important characters in the novel, right? Well, the ending really drives that home, suggesting that the fact that those two characters found their way to each other is actually a lot more important than the mysteries that have been delighting us for the entire novel. Okay, fine, we guess we can get on board with the young love angle…but seriously, how did Carver kill Crosbie??

  • Setting

    Hokitika and Kaniere

    From all reports, the Hokitika of the novel is a bit rough around the edges by British a.k.a. "civilized" standards, since the arrival of the gold rush crowd was relatively recent when the novel opens. Walter definitely notes this aspect of Hokitika when he is first settling into the crown, but it doesn't seem to bother him:

    This was a gold town, after all, new-built between jungle and surf at the southernmost edge of the civilized world, and he had not expected luxury. (I.1.7)

    Because of the fact that this "civilized" world had just been built, more or less, Walter notices that places like the Crown have a kind of thrown together quality that only halfheartedly recreates the original British setting on which they are based. Describing Walter's first impression of the Crown, Catton writes:

    It had the appearance of a place rebuilt from memory after a great passage of time, when much has been forgotten (andirons, drapes, a proper mantel to surround the hearth) but small details persist: a picture of the late Prince Consort, for example, cut from a magazine and affixed with shoe tacks to the wall that faced the yard; the seam down the middle of the billiard table, which had been sawn in two on the Sydney docks to better survive the crossing; the stack of old broadsheets upon the secretary, the pages thinned and blurry from the touch of many hands. (I.1.5)

    So, while the place definitely tries to evoke the homeland, the small details belie that effort …

    Another thing that immediately strikes Walter about Hokitika is how different classes and communities seem to mix there in a way he wasn't used to—and although he considers himself liberal minded and all that, he's actually a little shocked by the "strange miscellany" (I.1.43) of men he sees carousing together at the Crown:

    He did not yet know that a goldfield was a place of muck and hazard, where every fellow was foreign to the next man, and foreign to the soil; where a grocer's cradle might be thick with color, and a lawyer's cradle might run dry; where there were no divisions. (I.1.43)

    That's right, Walter, you and Toto aren't in England anymore.

    Although Hokitika is the main setting for pretty much everything that goes on, we'd be remiss if we didn't also mention that some stuff happens in Kaniere, which is near Hokitika. That's where Sook has his opium den, and where the area referred to has "Chinatown" is. However, as Catton notes, that name is a little bit funky:

    'Chinatown' was something of a misleading name for the small clutch of tents and stone cabins some few hundred yards upriver from he Kaniere claims, for although every man hailed from Guangdong, and most from Kwangchow, together they could hardly be said to comprise a township: 'Chinatown' was home, at that time, to only fifteen Chinese men. (I.9.2).

    However, since apparently the Chinese characters were pretty separate from the English foreigners in both language and distance, it kind of makes sense that the characters would name it as though it were an entirely separate place.

  • Tough-o-Meter

    (5) Base Camp

    Given the book's length, you'll be relieved to know that Catton's prose is very readable and flies right by. That said, it is written in the style of a Victorian sensation novel, so you're dealing with an olderish writing style and some older genre conventions that might seem unfamiliar. Don't worry intrepid Shmoopers—it's certainly nothing you can't handle.

    Still, be warned: the book jumps around in time. A lot. And then there's the whole crazy complex astrology-infused structure that mimics the lunar cycle and pairs characters with a host of zodiac signs and planets. So unless you've been keeping up with Miss Cleo all these years (or if you are, in fact, Miss Cleo herself), you're going to have to pay close attention to these parts.

    The whole astrological structure is pretty important to understanding the book's portrayal of relationships, writing, and communication, so while you can still enjoy the book without thinking too much about signs and planets, it's a lot more fun if you're paying close attention to what she's doing with that structure—we'll help you along if you need a little help.

    So, for it's "more than meets the eye" complexity, we'd say this one's at the high end of base camp. Are you ready for the trek?

  • Writing Style

    Victorian

    Catton is trying to mimic the style and diction of the Victorian novel, and she does it very well. Her language definitely evokes the crispness and propriety of Victorian prose—and speaking of propriety, we should mention that curses get the literary version of the bleep button.

    Also, she uses antiquated spellings—such as "gaol" for "jail," "phial" for "vial," and "connexion" for "connection"—that definitely create a sense of Victorian authenticity.

    There are 800+ pages of examples, but we'll just pick one that popped out at us because it 1) it uses one of those antiquated spellings and 2) it has a kind of buttoned-up writing style that seems more 1866 than 2013. The example comes right after Moody has met and formed an opinion about Alistair Lauderback. The reflections here are kind of Austen-esque, in that they take Lauderback down in a way that is both mild and devastating all at once:

    Moody listened to him politely, but the impression he formed was an unfavorable one, and he had left the scene of their first acquaintance with no intention of repeating it. He saw that Lauderback was the kind of man who did not care to court the good opinion of any man whose connexions could not benefit his own. (II.4.28)

    So, there you have it. Even though it was written in 2013, Catton effectively mimics the writing style of the Victorian novel—which is appropriate, given that it's set smack dab in the middle of that form's heyday.

  • Knots

    The novel itself is a big tangle of different stories, details, and clues—and in that way, it's kind of like a messy ball of yarn. Walter Moody himself kind of seems to make that analogy when he realizes, after hearing all the stories of the twelve men in the Crown smoking room, that trying to sort through all of that is basically a project of unraveling, reflecting:

    So I am to be the unraveler, Moody thought. The detective: that is the role I am to play. (I.12.41)

    The novel also draws attention to its own tangly ways by having a lot of references to knots. The first moment we get a sense of what Catton is doing with that particular symbol comes pretty early in the book, when Nilssen is muddling through a strange meeting with George Shepard. Even after the meeting, Nilssen is not really sure he gets why Shepard had come there, or whether/with what he was being threatened:

    Nilssen sat alone in his office for a long time after Shepard left, turning the gaoler's proposition over and over in his mind. A feeling of doubt was seeding in his breast. He felt that he had missed a connexion somewhere—as if he had come across a knotted handkerchief, balled in the watch-pocket of an old vest, and could not for the life of him recall what the knot was supposed to prompt him to remember—what errand, what responsibility; where he'd been, even, when he tied the corners, and tucked the thing away against his heart. (I.4.234)

    Just as the knots in the handkerchief could have a forgotten meaning to the person who finds it, so there was some kind of "knot" in Nilssen's conversation with Shepard that he couldn't unravel. So, in this moment, the knot becomes a symbol of the mysteries and failures of understanding that are flummoxing him.

    Also, it's worth mentioning that when we get a flashback to the day Crosbie Wells figured out that Lydia and Frank had stolen all of his gold and important documents, Lydia has Anna tying up ropes into knots as centerpieces for an event that evening (which, not for nothing, is being held to get Raxworthy away from the Godspeed so that Carver can blackmail Lauderback). Given that Lydia's deception is at the heart of that chapter, the heavy focus on knots seems to fit into the book's overall use of knots to draw attention to deceptions, mysteries, and other things whose truths are extremely difficult to untangle.

  • Gold and Pounamu

    The novel is set during the New Zealand gold rush, so is it really a surprise that gold is kind of a big fat deal here? In addition to it being somehow key to almost every character's profession, a haul of stolen gold manages to change location and hands multiple times and spark of a lot of bad behavior and crimes, including fraud, theft, and murder.

    So, as such, gold kind of gets associated with all of those nasty things—and with the greed that is at the core of those crimes. Crosbie Wells warns Anna about gold's negative effects on human nature when he's giving her the scoop on Lydia's actual intentions toward her:

    Here's something you ought to know. There's no charity in a gold town. If it looks like charity, look again. (IV.5.49)

    So, in other words, people are only out to make their fortune, and it's every man (or woman) for himself/herself, according to Crosbie.

    Of course, the truly dangerous thing about gold is that it can sometimes masquerade as a symbol of hope and happiness. Remember how the gold that circulates through the story ends up stamped with the name of the Aurora mine? Yeah, well, if you've watched the Disney Sleeping Beauty, you know that the name "Aurora" has to do with daybreak, which is a pretty clear symbol of hope and beginning.

    Anna herself unconsciously associates gold with "awakening" in her words to Gascoigne when she wakes up in jail and finds gold in her corset:

    'Gold,' she whispered. 'It's gold. Up and down the corset-bones, and in the lining, and all the way about.' Her dark eyes were searching his face, pleading with him. 'Gold,' she said. 'I don't know how it got there. It was there when I woke up—sewn in.' (I.7.6)

    Given the book's persistent emphasis on how men are coming to the New Zealand goldfields to remake their lives/themselves, it seems significant that so many mentions of gold are paired with references to awakening and dawn, no? No wonder people are so intoxicated by it …

    There's another kind of valuable stone in the book that serves as a counterpoint to gold and its significance: pounamu, the greenstone that Te Rau Tauwhare hunts for and carves. Whereas gold and gold digging have to do with commerce in the novel, pounamu is something private and sacred, in Te Rau's view, and a true "treasure" in a way gold isn't:

    He did not mention that his skill was as a carver. He had never sold pounamu. He would not sell pounamu. For one could not put a price upon a treasure, just as one could not purchase mana, and one could not make a bargain with a god. Gold was not a treasure—this Tauwhare knew. Gold was like all capital in that it had no memory: its drift was always onward, away from the past. (I.3.163)

    Because of his strong opinions about the difference between gold and pounamu, Te Rau gets really upset when Crosbie Wells tries to compare the two, saying they're both just minerals:

    'There's no difference,' Wells insisted, reaching for another piece of meat. 'You might not like it—but you have to admit—there's no difference. It's just one mineral or another. One rock or another.'

    'No,' Tauwhare said. He looked angry. 'It is not the same.' (IX.4.3-4).

    However different they might be in Te Rau's mind, it's worth mentioning that, like gold, pounamu gets associated with violence and murder, since we know it can be used to make deadly weapons. In fact, the book strongly suggests that Te Rau murders Frank Carver with a weapon made out of that sacred stone …

  • Planets, Stars, and Luminaries

    As you already know by this point (we hope), the book takes planets and zodiac signs pretty seriously and uses them to symbolize and draw attention to certain aspects of the characters and their actions/relationships. For example, when a chapter is titled "Mercury in Sagittarius," you know that the important action is going to involve Walter Moody and Tom Balfour.

    Similarly, having Anna and Emery associated with the sun and the moon draws attention to their close interdependent relationship, which Lydia Wells makes explicit later when, after meeting Emery, she realizes that Anna "may have an astral soul-mate" (IV.9.41). They do turn out to be incredibly bonded (and smitten with each other), and the novel's little graphs and chapter titles suggesting Emery and Anna's association with the "luminaries" drives home their connection early and often—and long before we actually ever get a scene with them in a room together, actually.

    The zodiac and planetary motif also highlights the novel's overall emphasis on the idea that even minor changes in the positions/relationships of the characters can make the future a whole new ballgame—kind of like how the movement of heavenly bodies across the sky and their positions create the potential for new things as the year goes on, if you're astrology minded.

    Suggesting that a lot has changed for the characters in the month that elapses between Part I and Part I, Catton likens the shifting gears of life in Hokitika to the machinery of the heavens:

    For the planets have changed places against the wheeling canvas of the stars. The Sun has advanced one-twelfth along the tilted wheel of her ecliptic path, and with that motion comes a new world order, a new perspective on the whole. With the Sun in Capricorn we were reserved, exacting, and lofty in our distance. When we looked upon Man, we sought to fix him: we mourned his failures and measured his gifts. We could not imagine what he might have been, had he been tempted to betray his very nature—or had he betrayed himself without temptation, better still. But there is no truth except truth in relation, and heavenly relation is composed of wheels in motion, tilting axes, turning dials; it is a clockwork orchestration that alters every minute, never repeating, never still. (II.1.2)

    Put differently, the "truth" of a situation is never a totally absolute thing—it depends on who and where you are when you're looking at what's happening. Catton's novel insists that you not get too hung up on "What really happened" and think more about how the characters are relating to each other in a particular situation and what "truth" they know and are acting on. For example, Anna firmly believes that Emery Staines is talking to her telepathically at one point—which no one else seems to believe, but that belief definitely influences her actions.

    So, the point is that, when it comes to sussing out what's really important in the book, to paraphrase James Carville, "It's the relationships, stupid."

  • Narrator Point of View

    Third Person (Omniscient)

    As third person narrators go, this one really takes omniscience to new levels. Whereas most narrators only comment on a few characters within a very specific corner of the earth, taking a kind of bird's-eye view of a book's happenings, Catton's narrator looks at the novel's characters from space.

    Yup, in addition to weaving in and out of characters' minds, this narrator is constantly reminding us that what's going on with the characters is related to/has a kind of twin in the machinery of the stars and planets. As s/he transitions us from the first section into the second, for example, s/he clues us into the changes that have taken place for the characters by commenting on what's been happening in the heavens:

    For the planets have changed places against the wheeling canvas of the stars. The Sun has advanced one-twelfth along the tilted wheel of her ecliptic path, and with that motion comes a new world order, a new perspective on the whole. With the Sun in Capricorn we were reserved, exacting, and lofty in our distance. When we looked upon Man, we sought to fix him: we mourned his failures and measured his gifts. We could not imagine what he might have been, had he been tempted to betray his very nature—or had he betrayed himself without temptation, better still. But there is no truth except truth in relation, and heavenly relation is composed of wheels in motion, tilting axes, turning dials; it is a clockwork orchestration that alters every minute, never repeating, never still. (II.1.2)

    So, yeah, our narrator is super ambitious and super omniscient. And apparently could read our fortune for us, if we asked.

    The narrator likes to draw a lot of attention to herself/himself/itself, making sure the reader is aware of her/his/its role in framing events in a particular way. Quite a few times, s/he mentions omitting or reordering information to make the content easier for the reader to digest (and for that, we truly thank her/him).

    For example, in giving us Balfour's account of the strange events that had been taking place in Hokitika, she let's us know she's cleaned it up quite a bit:

    The interruptions were too tiresome, and Balfour's approach too digressive, to deserve a full and faithful record in the men's own words. We shall here excise their imperfections, and impose a regimental order upon the impatient chronicle of the shipping agent's roving mind; we shall apply our own mortar to the cracks and chinks of earthly recollection, and resurrect as new the edifice that, in solitary memory, exists only as a ruin. (I.2.2)

    After all, Balfour was telling his story to a room of twelve other men, so naturally he was interrupted several times with questions, probably lost his place as a result, and surely told it in a disjointed fashion that have been a hard slog for a novel reader, had it been written out faithfully. So, our narrator smooths it out for us.

    Also, the narrator likes to step into make sure we're thinking about the way the characters' destinies and futures are always shifting based on the tiniest of chances in circumstances or relationships. S/he comments several times upon how things could have turned out differently if it weren't for X or Y, drawing attention constantly to how these "dials" in the heavens—and in human relationships—never stop spinning.

    For a great example of this, let's look at when we learn that Balfour had made the relatively tiny decision not to tell Ben Löwenthal everything about a certain conversation he had had with Alistair Lauderback—which, the narrator goes on to emphasize, actually had massive consequences:

    We will interject to observe that this was a regrettable censorship; for if Balfour had recounted Lauderback's tale in full, the events of the 27th of January might have played out rather differently, for him—and for a number of other men. Prompted by certain particulars of Lauderback's story, Löwenthal would have remembered an event that he had not had reason to remember for many months: a memory that would have been of great assistance to Balfour's investigations of Carver, helping to explain, in part at least, that man's mysterious assumption of the surname Wells. (I.6.296)

    So, the take-home is that the narrator may be omniscient, but s/she's never too busy or far away to interject something that will help guide the reader's insights at key moments.

    • Booker's Seven Basic Plots Analysis

      NOTE: The Luminaries is a bit tough to chart in terms of Booker's code, since it's not really all that interested in its "protagonist," i.e., Walter Moody. In fact, it's really not interested in the journey of one single character at all; instead, it's preoccupied with relationships between people and how they shift, combine, react against each other, etc. That said, the book as a whole—and the journeys its characters take—most closely align with "Rebirth."

      Falling Stage

      When we first meet Moody, he's arrived at the Crown Hotel on a dark and stormy night (yeah, we know, it's cliché). His trip into Hokitika was pretty dicey because of the weather, and he thinks he may have seen a ghost on his boat. Then, when he gets to hotel, he accidentally stumbles on a supersecret council that twelve men are holding in the smoking room. It seems that an evil dude named Frank Carver—who, incidentally, was the captain of the ship that had brought Moody in that night—is at the center of a lot of mysteries and weird happenings in Hokitika, and so all the men are pretty captivated by figuring out where he is and what he's up to. At the end of the powwow in the Crown smoking room, the men get word that Carver's ship, the Godspeed, has wrecked.

      Recession Stage

      Almost a month later, not much has really changed; the mysteries and tensions that were first discussed in the Crown meeting remain—a man named Staines is still missing, there's a fortune of gold whose exact origin/rightful owner isn't clear, the local prostitute has quit the business (but still can't remember/explain a blackout she had the night of the Crown council), and a man named Ah Sook is still contemplating revenge against Carver for something that went down between them in the past. Oh, and Carver's girlfriend, Lydia, has rolled into town claiming to be the wife of Crosbie Wells, the man whose fortune is in dispute (and who, in all likelihood, as murdered by Carver).

      Lydia Wells holds a séance to summon Emery Staines, but instead the "spirit" of Frank Carver comes and talks to Ah Sook. In the commotion around the séance, Sook finds out that Carver is in town (which he didn't know previously because of a language barrier). He once again resolves to kill him.

      Imprisonment Stage

      Sook has to lie low while he's plotting to kill Carver, since he knows Lydia will have tipped Frank off that Sook was in town. So, he ends up under beds, squatting on Moody's mining claim, etc.

      Anna, too, is in a kind of prison, since Lydia (who is pretty evil) has insisted that Anna come live with her. Anna is mysteriously wasting away, and Lydia keeps her on an extremely tight leash, not really allowing her out or permitting her visitors.

      Meanwhile, Staines is not trapped in a shipping crate anymore (which is how we are led to believe he spent January 14-27), but he's still wandering around in a haze produced by opium and, as we learn later, a bump on the head. So, he's definitely trapped in that sense.

      For the other characters, the biggest thing that "imprisons" and/or holds them back is their lack of full understanding of all the circumstances, history, and relationships behind the Wells fortune and the missing Emery Staines …

      Nightmare Stage

      Shepard ends up killing Sook before he can get to Carver, carrying out his own revenge plan (since he mistakenly thought Sook had killed his brother).

      Staines returns, which is great, but then he and Anna end up on trial for various crimes. He is unable to say definitively what happened to him during the months he was gone or how he got shot—it's all pretty hazy thanks to the opium. However, he and Anna, with the help of their lawyer, Moody, get a story together to tell for the court.

      Rebirth Stage

      Staines gets nine months of hard labor, which is better than it could have been, and Anna is acquitted. Meanwhile, Carver arguably gets what he deserves when he's murdered on his way to prison after being arrested at the courthouse based on info that came out at the trial (the murderer is presumably Te Rau). So, the implication is that Anna and Staines will eventually live happily ever after, once he's done in jail, and he's optimistic about being able to rebuild his fortune.

      The book is filled with people starting over, actually—in fact, that's the whole reason Moody ended up in Hokitika. He was fleeing his drunk and dissolute father to seek his fortune in the goldfields, and he's setting off on a trip to do just that when the primary narrative timeline closes. Of course, his father has just arrived in town to find him, hoping to find his own "do over" with his son. We don't know if that ever happens.

    • Plot Analysis

      Exposition (Initial Situation)

      Just Sit Right Back And You'll Hear A Tale

      The book opens on January 27, 1866. A man named Walter Moody has come to Hokitika, a New Zealand town in the throes of gold mining-mania, to try his hand at digging. He's pretty traumatized from the boat ride, during which he saw something pretty weird and possibly supernatural, though we don't find out what that is immediately. Upon landing, he heads to the Crown Hotel to get a room and chill out. When he goes down to the smoking room, however, he discovers twelve men who were definitely in the middle of something and hoping to be alone. Awkward.

      Rising Action (Conflict, Complication)

      No—It's Really Complicated

      When everyone present at the meeting figures out that they can trust Moody, they decide to take him into their confidence and tell him about some very strange goings-on in town that all appear somehow related, including stolen treasure, drug use, mistaken/stolen identities, fraud, a possible murder, a missing man (i.e., another possible murder), gunshots, and a prostitute who had (apparently?) tried to commit suicide. Yeah, this is definitely no Nancy Drew mystery—the stakes are high.

      After everyone has weighed in with their part of the story, the men (or at least, the men who understand English well—two of those present do not) seem to conclude that a) the missing man, Emery Staines, is likely dead and b) Crosbie Wells was likely murdered by Francis Carver. Since Carver captained the ship Moody came in on, the plan is to have Moody do some investigating when he picks up his trunk the next day. However, just as the meeting is winding down, the lookout for the meeting runs in with the news that the Godspeed is wrecked. How's that for timing?

      Climax (Crisis, Turning Point)

      Mayhem, Muddle, and Misunderstanding

      The book then picks up about three weeks later. Lydia Wells, Crosbie's widow (and Frank Carver's girlfriend/conspirator) has started her own entertainment palace, and she's holding a séance that evening with Anna Wetherell, the local prostitute who had quit the profession after her suicide "attempt," serving as her assistant. The purpose will be to summon Emery Staines's spirit. In case you're wondering, this is like the nineteenth century equivalent of Sylvia Browne—that washed up "psychic" from the Montel Williams show.

      Early in the day, Sook, owner of the local opium den and Anna's old friend/dealer, goes to visit Anna at Lydia's hotel (where Anna is now living). Sook is shocked to see Lydia there, since he knew her from Sydney. He knows she's a "friend" of Francis Carver, whom he wants to kill for driving his father to suicide, but he thinks Carver is out of town.

      Lydia recognizes Sook as well and—far from shunning him—insists that he come to the séance that night. Sook agrees and brings Quee.

      The séance doesn't end up summoning Staines, but Lydia channels Carver, repeating some words in Cantonese that Ah Sook himself had said to Carver when he vowed to kill him. Also, through some trickery, Lydia arranges for the lamp to mysteriously fall over on its own and set the table on fire. Poor table.

      Whatever nonsense Lydia was trying to pull by channeling Carver's "spirit" (perhaps she was trying to pass him off as already dead?), Ah Sook quickly finds out from the others present that Carver is alive and in town right at that moment. Oops. He resolves to go save up for a gun and kill Carver at his earliest convenience. If that doesn't spell premeditated murder, then we don't know what does.

      Falling Action

      Bodies and Revenge Galore

      Unfortunately for Sook, there's someone around who wants revenge on him: George Shepard, the brother of the man who ended up getting shot the last time Sook tried to kill Carver (long story—see the full step-by-step plot summary for those details). He ends up shooting and killing Sook before Sook can carry out his revenge.

      While all that was going on, Te Rau discovered Emery Haines in Crosbie Wells's house, injured and apparently delirious. He arranges to for Staines to get medicine and transport into town, where he ends up holing up in the jail. Why, you ask? Well, his beloved, Anna, is there on charges of intoxication after she mysteriously fainted while talking to a solicitor about a fortune she might possibly be owed.

      Resolution (Denouement)

      (Pretty Much) Everyone Gets What They Deserve

      A month later, Anna and Emery end up on trial for various crimes related to the hijinks/mysterious happenings we've been hearing about for the whole book. During the trial, the bad behavior of Frank and Lydia Carver (yup, they got married) comes to light, and the court takes Frank into custody. While he's being transported to jail, however, someone (probably Te Rau) breaks into the carriage and bashes his head in. Ouch.

      Anna is ultimately acquitted, and Staines (who had pled guilty) gets nine months of hard labor. However, he is able to make financial arrangements to ensure Anna is comfortable and safe during his absence—a real Prince Charming.

      With the trial over, Moody leaves Hokitika for a dig, apparently unaware that his father has rolled into town looking for him. He makes a new friend named Paddy Ryan on his way out, and they are set to trade stories on the journey. And boy, what a story Walter has to tell…

    • Three-Act Plot Analysis

      Act I

      Walter Moody comes to Hokitika one stormy evening, his ship (the Godspeed) almost wrecking before he can get onshore. On top of the bumpy ride, he saw something weird on board, so he's really looking forward to a nice calm evening at his hotel. However, he finds anything but relaxation when he heads into the smoking room and finds twelve men having some kind of mysterious powwow. They don't seem too happy to be interrupted, either.

      However, they ultimately take Moody into their confidence and explain that some weird stuff's been going down in town that they're trying to clear up. It turns out that Moody himself has already become involved in their collective "story" without realizing it, as the man who captained his boat, Francis Carver, seems to be at the heart of the crimes and mysteries that the twelve men are trying to untangle, which include stolen treasure, gunshots, drug use, mistaken/stolen identities, fraud, a possible murder, a missing man (i.e., another possible murder), and a prostitute (and former opium addict) who had (apparently?) tried to commit suicide.

      Once they're done talking, news comes that the Godspeed has wrecked.

      Act II

      As time progresses, the mysteries only get thicker. The prostitute who tried to take her life, Anna, is now living with Lydia Wells (Carver's girlfriend) and apparently has some history with her. The two women run a séance to summon Emery Staines, under the assumption that he is dead. Lydia seems to assume that, anyway.

      Meanwhile, Anna's former dealer, Ah Sook, has history with Carver and has sworn to kill him as revenge. However, after finding him totally by accident in Hokitika (where he had settled after giving up on his original plan to kill Carver), Sook mistakenly came to believe Carver had left town.

      After the séance, at which Wells pretends to channel Carver's spirit, Sook finds out that Carver is actually in town and starts making preparations to kill him. However, George Shepard kills him first. George had his own score to settle with Sook from Sydney (see the chapter-by-chapter plot summary for more on that).

      While Sook's aborted revenge plot was playing out, Te Rau, a local Maori man, found Staines hiding, delirious and wounded, in Crosbie Wells's cabin. Aha! So that's where we left him…

      Act III

      Anna and Emery end up on trial, and Moody conveniently serves as their lawyer. Staines pleads guilty and is sentenced to nine months of hard labor, and Anna is acquitted.

      The dishonest behavior of Carver and Lydia Wells (who had gotten married) came out at the trial, and when Carver was remanded into custody, someone (probably Te Rau) snuck into the carriage taking him to jail and killed him.

      After the trial, Moody went out on an extended dig, just as his father showed up in town looking for him.

    • Allusions

      Literary and Philosophical References

      • Charon (I.1.87)
      • Cicero (V.2.8)
      • Milton, John, Paradise Lost (I.6.3)
      • The Romantics (V.2.8)
      • Van Dyck, Anthony (I.1.4)
      • Seneca (V.2.8)

      Historical References

      • Albert, Prince Consort (I.1.5)
      • Prince of Wales (throughout; it's the name of Mannering's opera house)
      • Waterloo (I.1.173)
      • Oliver Cromwell (I.5.213).