Book Review: The Boatman’s Daughter

The Devil All the Time Feat. Baba Yaga

Do you love southern gothic? Do you love Baba Yaga? Do you love being inexplicably spellbound by a book with as many twists and turns as a Texas swamp? Then this is the book for you! Andy Davidson has created a dreadful, sticky, muddy atmosphere so demanding of attention you won’t be able to put it down. The Boatman’s Daughter is a masterpiece of southern gothic horror and the dark magic of Slavic folklore.

Not much is known about author Andy Davidson (or I need to brush up on my investigative skills). He resides in Georgia with his wife and a bunch of cats (the real question here is- how many cats make up a bunch?)

His debut novel In the Valley of the Sun (2017) was a finalist for the Bram Stoker award for superior achievement in a first novel. Davidson has been hailed for his writing chops by the likes of Booklist, Publisher’s Weekly, and fellow renowned horror writer Stephen Graham Jones.

The Boatman’s Daughter, too, has been drowned in praise since its 2020 release. Paul Tremblay said the novel “…put an arrow through my head and heart.” Same.

For all its twists and turns and dripping sweat, this book is… weird. At its core, it’s a wild ride down the river on a little metal boat, trying to outrun some great and vaguely biblical evil. A weird and wild and wonderful ride. Oh yeah, and like really, really scary. That creeping dread scary, that something-lurking-in-the-shadows scary, that can’t-see-in-the-murky-water-of-the-bayou scary. The heat of the bog suffocates you, the greatness of the earth and its ancient magic overwhelms you, the journey of Miranda Crabtree and the family she finds along the way tears your heart in two and stitches it back together with a needle and thread.

Many POV’s run through this book – Miranda Crabtree, a strange boy named Littlefish, a Slavic witch named Iskra who has ties to the land older than time itself.

Miranda Crabtree is the boatman’s daughter (they said the name of the book in the book!!!!!) and she runs illegal errands for a corrupt police officer and a mad preacher. The bog is her river Styx and she – after the bizarre death of her father – is Charon. Well… so to speak. Her father’s death, left behind in fractured memories seen through a child’s eyes, has haunted Miranda for all the years she has lived in the bog on Iskra’s secluded island.

An errand must be run that Miranda can’t complete, and thus begins (or rather, continues) this strange tale through time and dreams and fractured beliefs. It’s tough to dig deeper without spoiling anything, but just know the pieces may seem tattered… until they come together in a tangled web of sins and death and southern heat.

I clung to this book for two days, reading as fast as I could because I literally had to know what Miranda was going to do to vanquish her foes of Slavic folklore, biblical proportions, and evil, gun-wielding men. She finds family and love despite the gloom of the bayou, and this, I propose, is the heart of the book. Family ties, blood running thicker than murky swamp water, secrets tying strangers together in ways they can’t fathom until they’re brought into the burning light of day.

The family relationships reminded me a lot of Imaginary Friend by Stephen Chbosky. Strange little kids wrapped up in – and in some cases at the center of – the grand, evil schemes of adults. Kids are closer to other worlds, people say. They can see what grown-ups can’t. Creepy little things. My mouth was hanging open when The Boatman’s Daughter revealed the family secrets lurking within its pages. Like, literally, hanging open as I was reading in my garden. I think I swallowed a fly.

At its core, The Boatman’s Daughter is a beating heart of family, love, and loss. Gaping wounds are left behind when our loved ones leave – and even more so when they are ripped away by strange forces beyond our control. How far would you go to heal those wounds? What would you do to fill the metaphorical graves of those you lost along the way? Miranda’s tale – and Iskra’s, and Littlefish’s, and the mad preacher’s, and the dwarf named John Avery’s – is a creeping tale of love growing in the strangest of places. Tangled roots of lies and sins, meeting beneath the ancient earth in a pounding, beating heart.

And also nightmarish beasts of Slavic folklore, drugs, fire, and lots and lots of murder. Not for the faint of heart. But damn, is this book awesome.

Five stars overall, three stars on the scare scale.

Reader beware, you’re in for a scare! Or, not. Trick-or-treat, after all.

xo Allison

COPYRIGHT DISCLAIMER:

Book cover art is used Pursuant to 17 U.S. Code § 107 under the “fair use” defense.

All other images are certified public domain.

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