Last year, if I talked about highly anticipated novels in 2020, The Boatman’s Daughter was at the top of my list. This is Bram Stoker Award finalist Andy Davidson’s second novel. His debut, In the Valley of the Sun (2017) was one of the best books I read last year.
Sometimes when I love a book so much, I worry about the follow-up novel not meeting that high standard set by the predecessor. In the case of Davidson, there was not a doubt in my mind he would write something equally fantastic.
The Boatman’s Daughter is a greasy, magical, Southern Gothic fable. Davidson pens a vivid backdrop for his colorful characters to come alive and draw the reader into an eerie supernatural thriller. The protagonist, twenty-one year old Miranda Crabtree, wins your heart as she navigates the Bayou of the American South. She’s a smuggler, running goods on her ferry for an unstable employer and charismatic preacher named Billy Cotton. Cotton’s backstory reads like a Grimm fairytale; better left unspoken in a review in order to preserve reader discovery.
Miranda encounters a variety of obstacles as she struggles to uphold moral integrity and appease her inner sense of justice in her chaotic environment. I absolutely love her. She is unpredictable and made some interesting choices along the way, but she was also relatable—acting on her emotions and disobeying orders from authority figures.
Davidson’s storytelling voice is bewitching. The story has a magnetic hold on its audience—making it virtually impossible to stop turning the pages. I was amazed at the depth of character Davidson assigns to all the major players in this story. They all have unique voices, motivations and agendas adding a rich complexity to the story that is wildly entertaining.
There is a strong visual imagery to his world building—the reader can “see” every scene play out in full color. Davidson employs descriptions of sight, textures, smells, sounds—anything in order to paint the picture vividly for the reader. It’s an immersive experience I won’t soon forget. Fans of supernatural, southern gothic horror should find this book completely satisfying. Andy Davidson is a master storyteller.