Book Review: In the Shadow of the Hanging Tree by Michael McLellan

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Synopsis: Henry was born into slavery; his young life 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.

Author: Michael A. McLellan

Title: In the Shadow of the Hanging Tree

Publisher: Sweet Candy Press

Date: 2017

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I have never studied this part of history, but as soon as I saw the In The Shadow of the Hanging Tree invite for a blog tour, I instantly wanted to join.

There are times when a book is nothing short of powerful, and this is how I felt about this novel. I have never been so concerned for a character within just a few pages, and yet I couldn’t tear my eyes away from that opening, fearing for Henry’s life even before I had got to know his character. McLellan’s writing just has that sort of impact.

As I have said, I am naïve to this part of history – I’ll be the first to admit it. But it means I have literally no idea how accurate In The Shadow of the Hanging Tree is. What it does do, however, is make you think about the level of violence, racism, prejudice etc existed at that time and how drastic the implications of these emotions were. So many innocent people were killed, and this novel makes you think about that.

`Here was a man who had killed to rescue her, without knowing her or expecting any reward. He was kind, generous, and he appreciated literature. He was contrary to everything her father had ever said about negroes. How was a man like this regarded less than any other by the colour of his skin? Yet, hadn’t she still been unable to invite him to address her as Clara?`

The characters were all relatable. Henry loses everything when he gains his freedom, but somehow finds a way to not only survive, but make a living for himself. This is mainly due to his relationship with the natives, especially Standing Elk. Henry was compassionate yet brave and was determined to do the right thing, regardless of the consequences for himself.

Both John and Clara were completely naïve, especially Clara. But they too were determined to do what was right. John couldn’t stand by and watch the slaughter, and Clara refused to let her controlling father dominate her life and deny her the man she loved. Both charged into danger, albeit of different sorts, because they felt they had no choice.

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The secondary characters were strong as well. Standing Elk would be the type of man you want as a leader, while those at the army base who tried to help the unfortunate couple acted from the heart rather than following orders. This novel had characters that you could easily fall in love with.

It didn’t shy away from how the times were though. Being a main character, being on the right side and acting with good intentions, did not by any means indicate that you would survive. The land was harsh, the people harsher, and those who were not suited for it perished. Regardless of whether they were a main character or the villain. I was left stunned more than once, convinced characters would reach their happy ending and being denied.

In The Shadow of the Hanging Tree is a very powerful read that gets you thinking, regardless of your knowledge of that era. The characters are cleverly constructed so no group appear superior or in the right, and the dialogue used reflects the attitude of the character – you know if someone is good or not by how they think of Henry!

A very strong recommendation and a very strong book.


About the Author

Mike new web

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.


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 Publisher: Sweet Candy Press


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3 thoughts on “Book Review: In the Shadow of the Hanging Tree by Michael McLellan

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