Redwood and Wildfire is a slow book, and one steeped in trauma. The book depicts a lot of violence, including abuse of animals, a lynching, and a graphic rape scene, and although there is a love story in it, this is historical fiction/historical fantasy. If the reader approaches the book knowing what to expect, they will be rewarded by lush prose and a detailed view of America during the Great Migration in both the rural South (where we spend the first half of the book) and in Chicago.

The Great Migration is a term that refers to the movement of millions of Black people from the rural South to the Urban North between 1910 and 1970. Our heroine, a Black girl named Redwood, longs to leave Peach Grove, Georgia, for Chicago. The first half of the book places her and the other protagonist, Aidan, an Irish/Seminole man, firmly in Peach Grove, but a traumatic event finally forces Redwood to make her move.

The characters reveal their culture through their language, actions, and who they choose as family. Redwood is a practitioner of hoodoo, a practice that includes clearly supernatural power (harnessing the weather, “pulling pain” from injured people) and a vast knowledge of medical techniques including herbal medicine. She is also a gifted performer who sings, acts, dances, and performs acrobatics, skills she uses to make a living after leaving Peach Grove. As a child, Redwood becomes friends with the older Aidan, who has some magic of his own. As adults, the two fall in love but struggle with their relationship in the face of internal and external threats.

Regardless of their circumstances, all the characters are faced with racism and with America’s violent past and present (the book’s present, that is) in one form or another. As Redwood and Aidan become performers who are always playing the roles that White people assign to them on stage and in film, the book demonstrates the many ways that marginalized people both struggle with identities forced upon them and weaponize those same identities. It also excels at showing the importance of being able to tell one’s own story.

Redwood and Aidan struggle as a couple, but their love for each other is undeniable (“He believes in me,” Redwood says of him). I appreciated that their problems didn’t just go away the minute they were reunited after a painful absence. And I felt optimistic about their future as individuals and as a couple. The strengths of this book lie in the depictions of people struggling to define their own story in the face of oppression.

This is a long book, and a challenging one, but once I accustomed myself to the pace, I thought this book was pretty amazing overall. The pace allows for rich characterization and fully realized conflicts and resolutions and relationships. The supporting characters are sometimes villainous and sometimes heroic, but always interesting. There is an abundance of humor, beauty, and joy, and the ending is an optimistic, hopeful one that left me feeling satisfied. The descriptions are incredibly immersive, whether detailing a regular day in Peach Grove or a train station in Chicago. Honestly, whether describing the world of the mundane or the magical, the book was an absolute joy in terms of captivating me, even when the characters are struggling with despair. The story is rich in empathy as well as history. If you like historical fiction with some subtle fantasy elements and can prepare for a slow pace and some painful, difficult topics, you will enjoy this.

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