HiIn the Shadow of the Hanging Tree
by Michael A. McLellan
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.
My thoughts on this book:
*May contain mild spoilers*
The story begins in 1861 with Henry, a slave who’s becoming emancipated during the Civil War, along with Eliza, the only love he’s ever had. Their master has decided to set them free. They head north from the plantation with barely any food and their freed papers in hand.
“Henry, I’m afraid.”
“So am I. Don’t you worry though. Once we get to Illinois, we’ll be jes fine. Can’t be more than a hundred an’ fifty mile if’n we just stay northeast.”
Henry’s luck takes a turn for the worse and his future is very uncertain. As he races for safety, he’s captured by an Indian named Standing Elk and surprisingly receives some well-needed aid. It’s all because of a dream that Standing Elk trusts him and they gain respect for one another over time.
“You carry a heavy heart,” Standing Elk said to Henry matter-of-factly one day when the two were walking by the small creek that ran by the camp. He spoke the language of the Cheyenne.
It was late spring and the creek was high. The clear water babbled and gurgled over it’s bed of stones. Henry picked up a few off of the grassy bank and began tossing them thoughtfully into the fast moving water. In the eight months Henry had been with the Cheyenne, no one had inquired about his past. He figured this was Standing Elk’s polite way of asking.
Next we follow a soldier in the military named John Elliot who’s sent to Dakota Territory to serve. He’s forced to go there because he’s in love with a woman named Clara Hanfield, and Clara’s cruel father won’t allow the relationship, in fact, he’ll do whatever it takes to keep them apart. Once there, John soon realizes the evil desires of the military to execute Indians, including women and children, and has to walk away. Clara is expected to simply abide by her father’s wishes, but she’s very strong-willed and takes off in search of John. Eventually all the characters come together for one dramatic story.
This book is literally chock-full of action with unforgettable characters, even the ones you truly hate. Henry–without a doubt– was my favorite character. I just loved him and the story literally begins and ends with him. He puts up with so much adversity throughout his life from early childhood, yet he strives to remain just and will do what’s right whenever possible. I adored his love for Clara and the friendship he offers.
I found myself rooting for John and Clara while I resented some of the other despicable characters. You honestly can’t help but hope the villains will meet their demise. I feel like this would make a great film if it were adapted for the big screen.
Here are some of the actors/actresses I think would be great for these characters: Click for image sources
Henry – Chadwick Boseman
John Elliot – Chris Pine
Clara – Kate Winslet
Standing Elk – Gil Birmingham
Emmet Dawson – Robert Patrick
I had so many emotions including multiple jaw drops throughout the book and couldn’t wait to see how the characters would come together. I had no idea how the story would unfold because the book isn’t predictable at all and the ending was even a surprise. Michael McLellan is extremely talented with his ability to write such a powerful story like this and I’m looking forward to reading more of his books. With that said, I think some people may have issues with some of the language used and perhaps some of the violent content. Parts did leave me outraged and there were times I didn’t think I was going to be able to finish the book but, I reminded myself that it’s important to remember this tempestuous time in history. We may not like it, but in my humble opinion, I feel like we need to look back on it.
Overall, this was an amazing read and I’d recommend it to anyone, especially those who love historical fiction. This isn’t a genre I normally read and I still thoroughly enjoyed it. I hope everyone will give it a try because this is a book we can all learn from.
- Paperback: 268 pages
- Publisher: Sweet Candy Press (April 26, 2017)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0989709884
- ISBN-13: 978-0989709880
Enter the giveaway to win a free signed copy of In the Shadow of the Hanging Tree. This includes a $25 Barnes and Noble gift card! Open to the USA only.
The giveaway ends July 30th at 12:00am CST.
Q: Did you enjoy reading as a child? What are some of your childhood favorites?
A: I loved reading as a child. Runaway Ralph and The Mouse and the Motorcycle by the great Beverly Cleary are unquestionably the reason I write today.
Q: Who are some of your favorite authors?
A: Some of the usual suspects: Stephen King, John Steinbeck, Shirley Jackson, Daniel Woodrell…I really like this writer who calls himself The Behrg. Indy guy. There is something about his writing that really impresses me.
Q: What have you written so far?
A: After and Again was my first novel. I self-published it in 2014. I think it’s a good story, but it reads like a first work. I’ve been telling myself I’m going to do a rewrite on it for three years now; tick tock, tick, tock:)
Then there is American Flowers. I also published this book. It was released in 2015. I think it’s as good or better than In the Shadow of the Hanging Tree, and the subject matter holds special relevance to me.
In the Shadow of the Hanging Tree is my third novel and it was published last year by Sweet Candy Press, a small but very capable publisher out of Olympia Washington. I have various short works as well.
Q: Are you working on any books right now?
A: I have two novels that are both about 1/3 complete. I’m taking an extended hiatus at the moment and don’t expect to publish either until 2020.
Q: What inspired you to write historical fiction, this book particularly?
A: I chose from the onset not to write in any particular genre. Something that many in the industry say is a death-knell for a new author. If that’s the case, so be it. I write about topics that move me, and hopefully at least a few other people. As far as this book, I’ve always been fascinated with this time period and wanted to write a different sort of novel set in it. Something from a different viewpoint than what has been the usual fare.
Q: How much research did you do for this book and how long did it take you to write it?
A: I did a ton of research for this book, and I hate doing research, so it was pretty grueling. Having said that, I learned a great deal (understatement) and feel good about the historical accuracy of the book’s details.
Q: What are your thoughts on how this book, which exposes experiences at such a scary time in history, compares to our current situation now?
A: Things are seldom black and white as they appear. The real world is full of greys. I’d prefer to let readers draw their own conclusions.
Q: Can you share a favorite movie?
Cool Hand Luke
Q: What are a few of your favorite songs?
“Yellow Brick Road”
Q: Is there a favorite quote you’d like to share?
“A sickness known as hate; not a virus, not a microbe, not a germ – but a sickness nonetheless, highly contagious, deadly in its effects. Don’t look for it in the Twilight Zone – look for it in a mirror. Look for it before the light goes out altogether.”
― Rod Serling
I’d like to thank the author for sharing this book with me, for his time in completing this interview, and for sharing such a generous giveaway.
About the author:
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, 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 shorts Joe Price and Anywhere But Here. Michael’s newest novel, In the Shadow of the Hanging Tree, was released on April 26th 2017 by Sweet Candy Press.
You can find Michael A. McLellan @
Thanks for checking out my review and good luck on the giveaway if you enter! Feel free to share thoughts or suggestions below.