An eerie sensation stole over me in the opening pages of Winds Over Marshdale, which I'm sure was the intent of author Tracy Krauss in this tale of fresh starts and the unseen spiritual forces at work in the lives of a small town community on the Canadian plains. Reading this story from the perspective of one having a Christian world view, it felt all too real, downright creepy even.
And I couldn't wait to read more.
While not a true suspense, elements of the story are very suspenseful, while being at turns romantic and enlightening. This is one of the first inspirational novels I've read that dealt so genuinely with issues of occult practices found in certain aspects of native cultural traditions here in North America. While exposing the underlying forces at work within them, the author in no way belittled those cultures. In fact, one of the main characters, a Native American man settling in Marshdale with the task of preserving his cultural heritage for future generations, was an especially appealing and sympathetic character with a strong love for the traditions of that heritage. Tracy told her story with a strong sense of what the occult in any form can do from someone who's dabbled in it. (You can read the author's testimony here.)
That's one of the strongest achievements of Tracy's novel. She creates a cast of characters that stands out. These are really, really well-developed characters. They are flesh and blood real, whether for good or for evil, and usually a sharp dichotomy of both -- like us -- and her effort to create them with such depth is one of the main things any writer can try to emulate after a careful reading of the book.
Good and bad live in everyone. (I don't want to give any spoilers, but let's just say, watch out for the church lady in this book!) Even a delightful main protagonist like Rachel Bosworth, a kind and generous kindergarten teacher who wants a fresh start, makes some really ugly, unlikeable choices. In fact, every one of Tracy's characters is a two-sided coin. Readers are given a chance to see them on the outside, and then discover what makes them tick on the inside, sort of like we can see and know ourselves -- or really, how God can see and know the real us. The battles we rage against our inner natures can be a nasty mess, if we'll admit it.
I highly recommend Wind Over Marshdale, and I can clearly see why it won a 2013 Grace Award.