Indie Feature Friday: Historical Fantasy Book Review – The Dogwood Grove by W.A. Ford

Look at me, posting my Indie Feature Friday review, and it’s actually a Friday and everything!

I hope my American friends are comfortably digesting their holiday dinners and that no one’s credit cards have melted with all the Black Friday shopping happening today.

If you’re like me, and you prefer to spend your long weekends curled up with a good book rather than battling shopping crowds, I have a great suggestion for you…

Today I’m featuring a book by an author I have read and reviewed here before, W.A. Ford — who wrote The Fadian Experiment and The Fadian Escape — and I love her blend of sci-fi and fantasy. But today, I’m reviewing something a little bit different.

And I think Ford’s voice absolutely excels in this genre!

Historical Fantasy Book Review: The Dogwood Grove by W.A. Ford

The Blurb:

Friedrich des Allmandes is not that unusual for his time and place. A mixed-raced freeman, he gets by on day work and his deceased mother’s mystical reputation. On the surface, his life is no different from any other hired hand, but Friedrich has his own mystical reputation. To his mother’s people, he is a promised savior who can lead them to freedom, but not until he embraces the spirits of their homeland. To his father’s people, he’s a ghost…his father’s ghost, and they’re far more accurate than they know. Friedrich has no plans on following either path until he lays eyes on the most beautiful woman he’s ever seen.

Savench lives in a gilded cage built by those who share her blood. Her days are spent serving her well-bred half-sister, but now that they’ve come of age, their resemblance cannot be ignored. Shunned by polite society, they are shunted into a rural household. All seems well, but behind the scenes Savench is victim to the supernatural forces of their new home. Help comes in the form of a hulking German who promises her an escape from her horrible life. The opportunity is perfect, but is he or anything he promises real?

The fate of an entire bloodline rests on the choices made by two people with little understanding of their role in the universe.

My Review:

I am going to be honest here. I have a weakness for books set in the Southeastern United States. I think it started with Anne Rice’s thick, moody descriptions of New Orleans in the 18th and 19th centuries in her Vampire Chronicles. I spent so much time with those characters as a teenager that I almost feel like New Orleans was a formative part of my childhood, even though I’ve never been there.

Now, as an adult, I realize that the gothic romance version that lives in my head is probably not remotely realistic. However, the feeling sticks.

I love Carl Hiassan’s crime caper novels set in Florida.

I recently read an old G.R.R. Martin novel called The Fevre Dream which is set on a steamboat on the Mississipi River. It also features vampires, though in a much less romanticized way than Rice’s series. It’s quite a brutal read at times. The true horror of that novel is the way human beings treat one another. We are the monsters.

N.K. Jemisin wrote a short story called “The Effluent Engine,” in her collection How Long ‘Til Black Future Month?, a queer steampunk love story set in an alternate past New Orleans. It stands out as one of my favourites in that collection, and I loved every single one of the stories in it.

From Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn to The Princess and the Frog (my all time favourite Disney movie) I have to say this particular area of the world is one of my favourite fictional settings.

Why?

I don’t know. I love the dichotomy between the vast wealth and opulence of the upper classes and the harsh realities faced by everyone else. I love the great cultural stew pot, and the dynamic between old world and new world ideals and ideas. There is a richness and a depth to the history of this area that begs to be explored.

Of course, these dichotomies are ripe with conflict, which is why it’s so powerful in fiction. And we would be remiss not to acknowledge the very real struggles of people past and present who have lived with the absolutely brutal reality of the “interesting times” that shaped the Southeastern United States.

There’s a reason that “May you live in interesting times” is a curse.

That said, W.A. Ford’s The Dogwood Grove is one of the best books I’ve read in this, my favourite, setting.

The Dogwood Grove is set on a plantation in the bayou. And it is full of mystery, magic, and absolutely dripping with tension. Ford’s descriptive power shines in this novel, I felt as I was reading how she invested herself in every character and every scene.

Deliciously atmospheric and complex, the book has a large cast of characters each with their own conflicting goals and motives, and each with a distinct voice. We get perspectives of slaves and settlers, ghosts and gods, and Ford pulls it off beautifully.

The blend of mysticism and magic from all around the globe — Germany, France, Spain, Turkey, Africa — is stirred up in a pressure cooker in the steamy swamps of the bayou.

I found myself surprised by the people (and other entities) that Ford was able to make me feel compassion and empathy for. And this, to me, is the finest mark of a great storyteller.

If you love historical fantasy and want to try something very different, I highly suggest grabbing a copy of The Dogwood Grove.

Technical details:

This is an indie novel, which means the cost of producing this book falls entirely upon the author. It often takes years to save up to put a book out, and more years again to earn enough to fix any errors we find.

That said, I was very happy with the quality of this book.

Ford is clearly an excellent writer. You won’t find any sloppy prose here. While there were minor typos and punctuation errors scattered throughout the book, I didn’t find they detracted at all from my reading experience because I was so invested in the story.

To me, personally, a poorly written book that has been well-proofed for misplaced commas is still a bad book.

This is a great book with some minor errors.

Discussion:

What is your favourite book set in the Southeastern US? Do you have a favourite book setting? Let me know in the comments!

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