Reed's Literary Horror Review of 'While The Witch Whispered a Prayer' by Alan L. Perkins (2020)
An engrossingly dark Historical Fantasy.
Is Historical Urban Fantasy a thing? That's what this comes down to; a Historical Fiction that is also a Dark Fantasy. While it definitely has a hard horror edge, I wouldn't classify it as horror. It's more of an action-adventure which is why I consider it Dark Fantasy. But GOOD LORD the historical accuracy of this Dark Fantasy is engrossing.
I talked with Alan when I picked up a copy of his book, and he explained to me that the research for the story was everything and that it took him about a year to complete. That truly shines through in all the historic details in every chapter. When I mean the historic settings are engrossing, I don't say that lightly. Mr. Perkins tied in multiple historical events that occurred during the 1870s and the plot is very much involved with the annexation of the Colorado Territories, as well as the Colorado Gold and Silver Rush of the time. It even goes into the Hayes election and the political implications of the Annexation of Colorado.
Most importantly, all of these details are masterfully bound in the plot itself, such that their introduction comes off as a natural part of the story. It was such an impressive melding of plot and setting that it seamlessly combines the two. It's like reading a frontier history novel, except with monsters and magic.
One thing that was particularly impressive about the novel was its sympathetic depiction of the plight of the Native Americans. Without going into the spoilers, the plot is over a land dispute between three factions. One is a classic European cabal of Sorcerers, one is a Celtic witch, and the third is a Comanche Shaman. The story opens with the Europen cabal and the Celtic Witch and doesn't shy away from the derogatory slang of the time. It almost seems as though these two factions are set up as the protagonists, expecting that the native would be the typical western caricature villains of the wild west. But then the tone changes dramatically. The first two factions can arguably be seen as the antagonists, making no small point in depicting the horrific plight of the Native Americans. No historic detail of their horrific treatment by western settlers is spared, and the true Protagonist, Smiling Sister (later, She Speaks with Gods) emerges as the focal point of the story.
It delves deeply into the erasure of the native culture, how many of them spent time as slaves or wards of the state, how treaty after treaty was broken by westerners, showcasing multiple massacres, and finally ending with the few victories of the native tribe grinding down western aggression into a stalemate. The racist colloquialisms of the first part of the book are merely a symptom of the injustices to come. Indeed, even one individual who was sympathetic to the plight of the natives still refers to them as red devils. This book is every bit about the injustice inflicted on the Native Americans as it is about the land dispute.
What's important about this is that the lives and livelihood of the other two factions are given first to help you understand their motivations. No villain is born in a vacuum and this really helps the reader remember that every villain is the hero of his own story. It gives purpose and meaning to the struggles that follow all of which are deliberately shadowed by the plight of the natives.
I see no reason to add spoilers. It's a fantastic novel that managed to capture my singular attention for a good long while. Meaning it's good but also gets my ADHD seal of approval. I could recommend it as much to fans of Ann Rices as I could with fans of J. R. R. Tolkien. Give it a shot, you won't be disappointed.