4 Stars. Trigger warnings for violence against women, self harm, assault, sexual assault, lots of blood and gore.
Do you like action? Brooding? Cults? Women highly skilled with a bow and arrow? Ancient swamp magic? REVENGE?? I’m sure your answers were all ‘yes’, and so I highly recommend to you The Boatman’s Daughter by Andy Davidson. This book is a thrill ride with plenty of bloody action, terrifying folk magic, and beautiful found family vibes. It feels like Winter’s Bone meet Beasts of the Southern Wild, and it’s amazing.
Miranda Crabtree is an orphan and has been since her father disappeared in the bayous of Arkansas when she was eleven. The only evidence left behind was a shotgun shell and a baby Miranda could have sworn was dead when her father and an old witch took it deep into the woods. Miranda barely escaped that night with her life. Something in the bayou wanted her.
That night, Miranda lost the last of her family, but she gained a new brother in the abandoned baby and a new grandmother (Baba) in the old witch, who found her and nursed her back to health. To keep them safe, Miranda aligns herself with bad men: an unstable and washed up preacher/cult leader, a weed grower, and a corrupt and murderous constable who tries to hurt her in more ways than one. Luckily, Miranda knows how to handle herself. When the preacher and constable start making some dangerous moves, Miranda finds herself having to fight for not only her life, but the lives her brother, her Baba, and a new arrival who turns out to be more significant to her family and the people of the bayou community than Miranda realizes. The balance of the ancient magic in the swamps depends on it.
Turning to her learned survival skills to defend herself and her family, Miranda also has to turn to a darker more dangerous power. Her Baba is a true witch, a woman deeply connected to the spirits of the bayou and the spirits brought over from her homeland. Her power and magic has deep roots in Slavic folklore, and they seem to feel just as at home in the American South as they do in Europe. But this power does not come without sacrifice and pain (and blood). And even with those sacrifices, these spirits are not in the business of customer satisfaction, if you know what I mean. Miranda must take this risk and call on the power of the bayou, unsure of if and how it will answer.
The Boatman’s Daughter is over 400 pages long, but the writing sucks you in and seamlessly ushers you through the split narratives. Davidson’s writing is so vivid, you can feel the sticky heat of the bayou as you read. He handles extreme and graphic situations with a kind of beautiful fluidity. This book is not without its gore and trauma on the page, and yet Davidson has a skill for making it feel significant and real without over sensationalizing.
The characters are rich and inventive, and some of them are absolutely terrifying. I will also give Davidson credit for writing what I thought was a wonderful female character. Miranda is strong, vulnerable, and competent. She’s incredibly skilled, but woe to the first person to tries to call her a Mary Sue. I loved reading her and going on her journey.
I would absolutely classify this book as horror, but it’s an interesting blend of subgenres that make it feel different from a classic horror novel. The real world horrors are front and center through most of this one. And while there is a heavy dose of paranormal creeps, most of those elements appear at the end. So if you like slashers and thrillers, I would definitely recommend picking up The Boatman’s Daughter.
This was my first experience reading Andy Davidson and I can 100% say that I will pick up anything else he writes in the future.
Published 2/11/20. Thank you to Farrar, Straus and Giroux / MCD x FSG Originals and NetGalley for providing an advance review copy in exchange for an honest review. Review originally published on jocelyniswrong.com.