Sid Johnson and The Well-Intended Conspiracy

Fiction - Mystery - Historical
302 Pages
Reviewed on 07/02/2024
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    Book Review

Reviewed by Gaius Konstantine for Readers' Favorite

“Adventure is pretty exciting when you read about it, or maybe when you think about it afterward. But being in the middle of an adventure isn’t so easy.” Perhaps it is not easy, but the adventure awaiting readers in Sid Johnson and The Well-Intended Conspiracy by Frances Schoonmaker is not to be missed. Young Sid and his family leave Illinois during the 1850s and travel via wagon train west to California. As if the perils of disease, ruffians, and nature were not enough, Sid must also contend with evil men intent on acquiring a letter he was entrusted to deliver to Doña Catalina in Santa Fe. Mud, mosquitoes, and miles of nothing combined with harsh loss and life-threatening danger (all while trying not to lose his hat) teach young Sid that the grandest adventure of all is life itself.

Perhaps Sid Johnson and The Well-Intended Conspiracy by Frances Schoonmaker is not 100% historically accurate, but it is a captivating and engaging story. Multiple plots combine to create a highly immersive novel with elements of adventure, mystery, and suspense masterfully brought together. The rich cast of characters is another area of excellence. Sid, Connie, and the brilliantly delightful Squeaker are just three examples of well-defined individuals who may remind you of someone you know. I also applaud the underlying theme of choosing between doing the right thing or being a jerk and a villain. With its pleasing and engaging pace, this novel is a perfect read for fans of Westerns, adventures, and mysteries alike, and I wholeheartedly recommend it.

Pikasho Deka

It's 1856. After being forced to abandon the underground railroad farm in Illinois, the Johnson family is on the Santa Fe Trail on their way to California. Sid, a teenager, is still trying to come to terms with life on the road. On his journey, Sid will encounter buffaloes and Native Americans, suffer from smallpox, and lose many friends. After Hiram Swathmore murders Doc Willis and Jim Payne, he flees with Sid's friend Grace. Meanwhile, Sid has a letter from William Gallagher that he must deliver to William's wife in Santa Fe. However, Bayless Sly and J.J. Gordon are also after the letter, believing it will lead them to riches. And now, Sly has kidnapped Sid's little sister, Cora. Will Sid reunite with his sister? Can he deliver the letter? Find out in Frances Schoonmaker's Sid Johnson and the Well-Intended Conspiracy.

This is a riveting coming-of-age story set in pre-Civil War America. Frances Schoonmaker's characters have depth and agency, and you feel like you're reading about real people. The author excels in making the rugged terrain of the Santa Fe Trail come alive through vivid descriptions that transport you to a place far back in time. Sid Johnson and the Well-Intended Conspiracy is for readers who love Westerns or adventure tales with young protagonists. Schoonmaker also touches upon the plight of the Kanza people through a captivating narrative filled with suspense, mystery, and intrigue. I liked the friendships in this book. Despite facing many challenges and losses, Sid and his little group of friends find a way to be happy and hopeful. The ending leaves you with a smile on your face. I loved this story, and you should too!

Grant Leishman

Sid Johnson and the Well-Intended Conspiracy by Frances Schoonmaker is the tale of a wagon train journey across the desolate western part of America before the Civil War. Young Sid Johnson and his family are traveling as part of a large group, heading ultimately for California. Sid has been entrusted to deliver a letter to a woman in Santa Fe, a letter that supposedly holds the key to a long-lost Spanish treasure. What Sid discovers is that the contents of this letter are also sought by malevolent men who will do whatever is necessary to take it from him, including killing. The letter, however, becomes secondary to the family’s adventures on the arduous journey west, where they will have to deal with potentially warlike Native Americans whose land they are crossing, hunger, disease, dangerous animals, and the ever-present threats of nature in swollen rivers and tornados. In this coming-of-age novel, Sid will learn what friendship and courage truly mean on the frontier.

Sid Johnson and the Well-Intended Conspiracy is a truly relaxing and satisfying read. Author Frances Schoonmaker paints a vivid picture of the desolation, danger, and violence these early pioneers faced in their months-long trek across the great western wilderness. Sid Johnson was a fascinating young man who had to come to terms very early on with the privations of wagon train life. His depth of maturity was tested and he was found to have deep levels of common sense and courage despite his frequent desire to be back home with his old friends. It was fascinating to see the class distinctions that were present even on such an egalitarian adventure as a journey across the Western frontier. The idea of a character such as Mrs. Payne, a highly educated black woman who could speak several languages and acted as a teacher for the many children in the wagon train, was a stark contrast to those who still believed in treating blacks as essentially subhuman. Similarly, the disparity in wealth and class between families was perfectly illustrated by the tornado that wiped out so many wagons. The harsh environment of the frontier had no respect for class, money, and privilege. Although the second book in a series, it is a stand-alone read. This is a thoughtful and at times insightful read that I enjoyed immensely and highly recommend.

Jamie Michele

In Sid Johnson and The Well-Intended Conspiracy by Frances Schoonmaker, the story opens with a wagon train plagued by smallpox, inciting fear and uncertainty among its members. Sid Johnson, entrusted with a letter by William Gallagher, wrestles with illness and the letter's significance. The arrival of immigrant wagons led by Davies and Ryckman offers both opportunity and hesitation as the groups merge. Tragedy strikes the Willis wagon, yet Sid emerges as a steadfast helper, particularly to Mrs. Payne. Peril is everywhere and Sid seems ever ready, with challenges like the Cottonwood Crossing and harsh realities versus Sid's romanticized ideals and the journey. There is a great deal of loss, injury, the coming and going of members, and natural disasters, but few things rock Sid as hard as when a kidnapping and the disappearance of his entrusted letter occurs, amplifying the stakes and uncertainties for the company's future.

Frances Schoonmaker's Sid Johnson and The Well-Intended Conspiracy immerses readers in the hardship and camaraderie of a Westward wagon train journey, following a young traveler that we grow to genuinely like. Faced with challenges like smallpox outbreaks and buffalo stampedes, the community becomes a beacon of support and unity. I liked how a save by the Kanza Indian, Ta Lezhé, and exposure to Native American traditions broaden the settlers' cultural horizons, fostering mutual respect and perspective in both the book and for the reader. Through Sid, we are shown not only the rugged landscapes and unpredictable dangers of the American frontier but also his evolving understanding of justice and personal ethics. Schoonmaker seamlessly integrates themes of community, growth, and moral introspection, crafting a historical fiction novel that is hearty enough to linger after the final page.

K.C. Finn

Sid Johnson and The Well-Intended Conspiracy is penned by author Frances Schoonmaker in the historical, mystery, and suspense genres. The plot follows young Sid Johnson's journey along the Santa Fe Trail, where he grapples with the mystery of a letter he's been entrusted to deliver. Could it be a family history or the key to a mysterious Spanish treasure? Dubbed in the story as Esteban's Cross, the letter becomes a coveted object, leading to danger and betrayal. Amidst the perils of disease, displacement, and kidnappings, Sid learns the true meaning of friendship and courage. Schoonmaker utilizes a brilliant atmospheric narrative style to craft an immersive adventure through the trials and triumphs of life on the Santa Fe Trail.

I love how the novel is packed with interesting historical details, and the mood and tone that come with this rich description make you feel like you’re actually there. The pacing is fantastic in delivering suspenseful storytelling with great twists, transporting readers to a vividly depicted frontier landscape fraught with danger and intrigue. Sid Johnson's journey from reluctant courier to reluctant hero is sure to tug at the heartstrings of any reader as he navigates the challenges of loss, betrayal, and self-discovery. The mystery surrounding Esteban's Cross kept me engrossed until the final pages. I was eagerly unraveling clues alongside Sid thanks to the close narrative viewpoint. This keen eye for narration also allows us deeper into Sid’s thoughts and his emotional journey, and I was rooting for him every step of the way. Overall, Sid Johnson and The Well-Intended Conspiracy is a captivating tale of adventure and discovery that will appeal to fans of mysteries and immersive historical adventures.