The Steep & Thorny Way by Cat Winters

The Steep and Thorny Way by Cat Winters

Title: The Steep & Thorny Way
Author: Cat Winters
Series: N/A
Pages: 352
Publisher: Amulet Books
Release Date: March 8th 2016 

      “A thrilling reimagining of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, The Steep and Thorny Way tells the story of a murder most foul and the mighty power of love and acceptance in a state gone terribly rotten.
      1920s Oregon is not a welcoming place for Hanalee Denney, the daughter of a white woman and an African-American man. She has almost no rights by law, and the Ku Klux Klan breeds fear and hatred in even Hanalee’s oldest friendships. Plus, her father, Hank Denney, died a year ago, hit by a drunk-driving teenager. Now her father’s killer is out of jail and back in town, and he claims that Hanalee’s father wasn’t killed by the accident at all but, instead, was poisoned by the doctor who looked after him—who happens to be Hanalee’s new stepfather.

      The only way for Hanalee to get the answers she needs is to ask Hank himself, a ‘haint’ wandering the roads at night.”

swirl (2)

“The nighttime forest glowed in a strange haze of gold, and the fat trunks and green awnings soured high above, as if I were nothing more than a spider scampering through a window box.”

Cat Winters’ The Steep & Thorny Way is an engaging historical fiction novel with an interesting paranormal twist. With vivid writing, Winters brings to life an era in American history where prejudice is not only tolerated, but celebrated. While many of us associate the white supremacist group, the Ku Klux Klan, with the South, I found it really interesting that Winters chose to set her story in 1920s Oregon. I didn’t know how strong an influence this particular group had outside of the South and reading about their widespread impact is equal parts interesting as well as terrifying. Hanalee Denney, the daughter of a white woman and black man, has known her whole life that people look at her differently because of the color of her skin. In the tight-knit community where she grew up in, her exposure to racial prejudice has been limited, but as she’s gotten older, the influence of groups like the KKK has increased and people are much more open to showing their intolerance, including friends she was once close to. Winters does a really good job of showing just how difficult it must have been for someone like Hanalee, who is subjected to discrimination at every turn, to grow up in such an unfair time.

Winters’ novel deals with many subjects from racial prejudice to homophobia. It never escapes my notice when authors approach certain subjects in historical fiction in an almost idealistic way. While it’s a nice sentiment to believe that their characters are not as bigoted as the times in which they are brought up, I often find it unrealistic for these characters to always be immediately accepting of different sexual orientations besides heterosexual when history tells a different story. Winters does no such thing when it comes to her characters. When Hanalee learns that someone she knows is gay, her reaction is much more in line with the times. She doesn’t quite understand and makes a rather insensitive remark; that being said, she is never consciously vicious as her views come from a place of ignorance not hate.

While not a strict retelling of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, The Steep & Thorny Way is focused on the death of Hanalee’s father and how she deals with learning that he might not have died the way everyone believes he did. Paranormal elements come into play when Hanalee is told that her father’s spirit has been wandering the town. She isn’t sure how to react to such a story and is made even more unsure when she finally encounters his ghost herself. Hanalee is determined to find the truth, even when her search puts her in the crosshairs of some dangerous people. While I did find the mystery aspect of the novel interesting, I did wonder at Hanalee’s methods. She often threw caution to the wind and started voicing her suspicions without first investigating. While I do think this makes sense for who her character is, I think the unraveling of the mystery would have felt more engaging if she had been more sly in her search for answers.

I highly recommend Cat Winters’ The Steep & Thorny Way for those who enjoy historical fiction, especially novels that explore subjects like discrimination throughout American history.

Rating: 4/5


21 thoughts on “The Steep & Thorny Way by Cat Winters

  1. I haven’t read Hamlet (for shame, I know), but maybe the character throws caution to the wind in the end because that’s what Hamlet did? Either way, this book sounds really interesting. I found your blog after reading a post from The Book Satchel, and I look forward to following you!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. There is so much to take in and process with this one. It would be so great had Hanalee taken a more subtle approach to her investigation, giving her an edge or an upper hand in the investigation of her father’s death. You can’t sneak up on the murder if you’re wearing loud Christian Louboutin shoes, eh? 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think I’d appreciate more subtly, just because I love the thrilling build-up; despite this, I just really lost myself in Cat Winters’ writing. The woman can write! I love when you correct you grammar after a comment, you’re too cute! I mostly just go, “Eh, they know what I mean.”

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Oh no…Don’t encourage me Alicia. I can’t stand leaving a trail of typos, even knowing people know what I mean.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I’m really tired right now, I don’t know what I’m saying. Tomorrow, I’ll tell you how important it is to correct those grammatical errors. I know I’ve wished and wished for Twitter to incorporate an edit button.


  3. This sounds really interesting! I’ve never heard of a retelling of Hamlet (or any other Shakespeare work for that matter). Although, if the book doesn’t specifically state that’s what it is, I’m likely to miss it and just read the story. I’ll definitely have to check this one out! I also didn’t realize the KKK had influence that far north. But then I haven’t studied history since High School (and don’t remember much of it).

    Thanks for posting this review!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think it would be fairly difficult to write a retelling of Shakespeare just because most of his works end so grim and I’m not sure that’s what authors go for these days. I don’t think I ever learned about how much influence the hate group had outside the South, it’s something I would have liked to have learned about though. I don’t know if any of us remember high school history. Thanks for reading!


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