In the Shadow of the Hanging Tree by Michael McLellan
Publication Date: April 26th 2017
Publisher: Sweet Candy Press
Genre: Historical Fiction
In 1865 a shadow hovers over the nation: the shadow lingers still…
Born into slavery, Henry’s young life is spent working in tobacco drying sheds on Missouri plantations. Freed at the onset of the Civil War, he’s alone, starving, and on the run from Confederate militiamen.
Five years later, Clara Hanfield, the daughter of a powerful New York shipping magnate, escapes her tyrannical father and travels west in pursuit of John Elliot, the man she loves. John, a U.S. Army lieutenant, was sent to the Dakota Territory where he discovers a government conspiracy to incite an all-out war with the Indians; a war meant to finally eliminate them as an obstacle to the westward expansion.
Henry finds himself caught in the middle.
Aided by Clara, John, and his native ally, Standing Elk, Henry must battle hatred, greed, and the ghosts of his past during this turbulent and troubling time in American history.
*** Note: I received e-copy of this book from the author via R&R Book Tours, in exchange for an honest review. Many thanks to author and Shannon. ***
In the Shadow of the Hanging Tree was historical fiction based on civil war, set in 1861-1866, a dark and brutal time period in American history. It was mainly about racism and its impact, civil war, antagonism, unjust law and exploitation, and fight for survival and what is fair and right.
This book was highly disturbing and evocative. It was filled with so much horrors humans are capable to create and sick psychology. I was shocked reading how politicians and military turned blind eye to what some militia group were doing and its consequence provoked Indians to fight. I kept thinking about book for long time and after long time I don’t have enough or proper words.
Writing was great, hooked me to story from the very first page. It took me longer to finish this book so wouldn’t say it was fast paced and with the topic and events so heavy one cannot rush through the story. Story was written from third person perspective from Henry, John and Clara’s perspective. There were two parallel stories – one of Henry told in dual timeline five years before and later while other of John and Clara.
Book started five years back,Henry escaping for freedom and slavery towards Kansas with his wife. It told about his life on run, how he was brought up, his work in shed of Tobacco plantation, how life took fateful turn when he was sold to a white tyrant, what happened once he ran off with his wife. Five years later he was s till struggling to live free life but have somehow earned Red Indians’ respect and now was working as military scout that put him in middle war between military and Native Americans where he soon had to choose a side.
At the same time John Elliot was forced to join military at Dakota Territory because he dared to love daughter of influential and powerful Shipping tycoon, Clara Hanfield. Few days later, Clara ran away from her tyrannical father to search for John so she can live life away from her father with him.
These three characters’ life and perspective changed as they entered this dangerous territory and as they learned ways of Native Americans, saw military’s unfair and inhuman treatment towards them, and experienced their outrage. It was tense and at the same time interesting to read their life and fate to see what they would do and how they would come out of the situation.
All characters were intriguing. We meet all kind of people. Though most of them were cruel and it would be insult to animals if I call them with animals, but some were kind, generous, compassionate and conscience. One was Henry. He was my most favorite. Even after enduring the worst in the world where he was seen lowly, treated worse than animals, and harbored anger and hatred for whites for what they did to him, he never thought about revenge or joined war with Native Americans, at least not in first half of the book. Even when he hurt anybody to save himself or somebody else he felt guilt for long time. Like John, said he was most noble person in the book and set an example on how humans should act and behave even in toughest time.
I like both John Clara and rooted for them. John was misguided and did what he felt was right based on the situation but he regretted it soon enough and started to question what military was doing and soon discovered government conspiracy that wanted to execute Indians. The reason behind it was revealed at the end of the book. He was so young and had less experience on field but still he showed tremendous courage and sensibility. His heart was on right side.
Clara was great throughout the book. Though I felt her decision was reckless, I could see her point. Her father wouldn’t have tolerated news. She was born and brought up in comforts and still she coped well with what she had to endure and days after she was rescued. I kept thinking about all the possibilities regarding her decision, but none looked right. She deserved much more than what she got here in this story.
Planes of prairie and woods of Missouri, slavery, treatments with slaves, psychology of people and their reaction to free black people and then towards treaty with Indian- it all was narrated wonderfully. Until I read this book and later on googling about civil war, I didn’t know Sand Creek Massacre really happened. It was horrible enough to read in the book, I cannot even imagine how could people have shoot defenseless Indians, elders, women and children alike, with no compassion or guilt, in reality. What might have driven them to such extent! And all for piece of land! A government’s petty reason! So that they can gain something, and what? Just look at the casualty number! Nothing can be worth to cause such big toll.
This story made me think how much people have changed and how some still need to look back at history to see what color and racial discrimination can do. Sadly, terrorism and now coronavirus keep influencing this in people. Just last month I read one blogger faced cruel remarks because of race and color; one WhatsApp group was ranting of safeguarding community and banish other community and was teaching same to their kids; I saw one post where a Chinese was beaten because of coronavirus! How some people’s mentality hasn’t evolved. It was mind-boggling and thought-provoking.
Climax was tense and uncertain. I couldn’t guess what character would face next and what they would decide to do about their situation. All that happened from climax to end made me so sad. The feeling of hopelessness I felt since 60% of the book only intensified in this part. The battle before end was tense, exciting and tragic. I wasn’t satisfied with the end in some parts. I was happy with the result of battle but not with what government did and the reason that was revealed for starting this war.
Overall, it was amazing, thought-provoking, and heart breaking historical fiction. I highly recommend this book to those who love to read books based on history and to historical fiction lovers.
Michael’s love of books began with Beverly Cleary’s The Mouse and the Motorcycle when he was seven-years-old. Later influenced by the works of John Steinbeck, Harper Lee, Stephen King, James Baldwin, and Cormac McCarthy, Michael developed his style of storytelling. A self-proclaimed blue-collar writer, he draws on his experiences and observations to bring relevant and compelling topics to life.
Michael lives in Northern California and when he’s not writing, he can usually be found wandering around the Sierra Nevada and Cascade mountain ranges.
His body of work includes the 2014 novel After and Again, the 2015 novel American Flowers, and the 2017 novel, In the Shadow of the Hanging Tree, as well as various shorts and essays.
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