‘Fast-paced and vivid’, ‘Exciting’, ‘Erotic’, ‘Would make an excellent movie’

Praise (and some criticisms) from advance readers of Black Grass

By Geoffrey Dow in Black Grass · Uncategorized May 8, 2020

Photo showing marked-up manuscript and finished copy of Black Grass by Carl Dow
The long road from manuscript to published book includes beta readers. Black Grass then, and now.

In the spirit of Walter Scott, Black Grass offers humour, horror, passion, satire, and insight

I have taught the novel in English, and theory of the novel, at university level, undergraduate and graduate, for almost thirty years, and in this context I recognize Black Grass as an excellent specimen of its genre — the historical action novel in the tradition that Walter Scott pioneered almost two hundred years ago. Black Grass involves credible characters, some invented, others based on actual figures, such as Gabriel Dumont, but all of them historically typical. They represent real trends of their time, leading to the future that is our present. It is the same with the events in which the characters are caught up and the actions they perform. Events based on recorded fact, project history along fictional lines that reveal the meaning of those facts; invented incidents plot curves of convincing character development. In its quest for meaningful adventure, Black Grass generates humour, horror, passion, satire, and insight. In addition Carl Dow has written a text that is very cinematic; it would translate into a great movie along the lines of the later Clint Eastwood westerns — sexy, adventurous, and at the same time, thoughtful.

(Dr.) Barry Rutland
Department of English (Retired)
Carleton University
Ottawa, Canada

Stirred me sexually

When I started Black Grass, I found it engaging and disturbing at the same time. I really thought that this was a man’s book. The graphic brutality of the first chapter was a problem for me. I can say however, that this is the first book I have read in a long time that has stirred me sexually. But then again, I tend to read the more conservative womanlit kind of thing and so maybe I have been missing something. By the time I finished Black Grass, I could only say that I loved it.

Joan McEachern
Community College Professor (Retired)
Ottawa ON

Combines history, romance, raw violence in a fascinating blend

Black Grass is a rollicking Canadian adventure novel wherein at the very least we experience a temporary triumph for the Métis nation. It has a fascinating blend of tenderness, romance, and raw violence, shedding light on Canada’s history.

(Dr.) Edward Laine
Chief, Ethnic Archives (Retired)
National Archives of Canada
Ottawa ON

Hardly time to catch my breath

The beginning is shocking but it has its place as the story evolves. The action in Black Grass is so intense there’s hardly time to catch your breath. I missed cooking two meals because I couldn’t put it down. I was exhausted by the time I reached the end. It was a fun way of learning history. It was one of the best novels I’ve read in a long time, and I have a novel on the go every day of the week. I’d like to pick up the story in the next book.

Yvette Pigeon
Registered Nurse
Ottawa ON

Like a Penthouse Forum letter in a Farley Mowat novel

I really enjoyed Black Grass. It is a fascinating portrayal of a period of Canadian history which has been repressed for too long. The plot just seemed to roll effortlessly along. However I have one major complaint. I found the sexuality excessive, distracting and sexist. A subplot of two women in love with the same man might add a little spice to an historical novel, but I don’t think this novel needs it. Your treatment of the sex seemed out of place, like a Penthouse Forum letter in the midst of a Farley Mowat novel, and too fantastic. Thanks for letting me read the book.

Denis Carr
Housing Construction Co-ordinator
Ottawa ON

Sex scenes erotic – Carl must have been a woman in a prior life

Brilliant, very entertaining, I couldn’t put it down. I needed to talk about it because it was a moving experience. The characters were real to me, and the choices they made made a lot of sense. I loved the historical background. The author put a story around real historical figures and real happenings, and because it was a Canadian novel I could relate to the places and the people. It was an enlightening experience in a different way from all the other novels I’ve read. I enjoyed the fact that it was raw, very sexual. The language was real. The sex scenes were erotic. The way Susan felt just before she had the first intercourse, is the way you feel about it when you want it. I wondered, how does Carl know how a woman would feel in that moment? He must have been a woman in a prior life. Gabriel never neglected his wife, that’s why Madeleine is so believable. A lot of women could tolerate another woman in a man’s life if they didn’t feel so neglected. The strange accommodation was very believable, and it’s full of common sense.

Brigitte Cadieux
Ottawa ON

A rollicking read with a broad wink

If you put James Michener and Louis L’Amour together you get Carl Dow and Black Grass. The opportunity to read it was a privilege. I was impressed by the diction and style and found it a rollicking read. It created a very vivid landscape, especially of the Indians.

The novel was well organized and the battle scenes were the best. All the details of how the Métis undermined the confidence of the invaders were really very well done. As a female reader I was a bit perturbed by the gratuitous display of female flesh, (although I must admit that it was balanced by a display of male flesh), and the heavy-handed suggestion of immanent rape in the opening and in Chief Sitting Bull’s camp. However, the whole charm of the novel is that it gives a broad wink to the reader. It doesn’t take itself too seriously.

Maya Zorya Johnson, Ph.D.
Toronto ON

Fast-paced and vivid
The poker game was a tour de force

Black Grass? I really enjoyed it! It is witty, the story has a fast pace, and it is vivid. The main characters are zesty. What I enjoyed was the rhythm. I never knew what would happen next! Even at work I was thinking about the book. I wanted to know more. This was my first historical novel. I liked the fact that the contextual information was given in such a way that was never boring; on the contrary, it simply made the action more interesting.

The poker game was a tour de force, and I say this as an experienced player.

Susan Ross, is every woman’s dream woman. With intelligence, imagination, determination, and courage, she rises from the depths of degradation to become a shining winner. She is a role model for all women who want their place in the sun. As a native of France, I know that a translated Black Grass would be very popular in my country of origin where there is a keen interest in matters pertaining to the North American Indian and the Métis. Black Grass would make an excellent movie.

Sylvie Perrin
French Language Proof Reader
Montreal, Québec

A very exciting story

This is a very exciting story . . . Black Grass is an enjoyable read written by a capable and experienced writer. It has romance, it has drama, it has action — it has sex, violence, and foul language, but not gratuitous. It breathes life into a little known episode of Canadian history and introduces us to a man, Gabriel Dumont, more closely associated with a more controversial and tragic event — the 1885 Riel Rebellion. The author understands how to create a novel and is adept at creating believable and interesting characters . . .

Susan Code
Author, Professor of English
Algonquin College, Perth Campus

More character development would make it even better

I think Black Grass is a good story. Some parts, such as the poker game, are hilarious. It had me in stitches. You have a great set up in the beginning. It reveals Susan’s desperation, the harsh life, as well as the striking differences between Dumont’s values and sense of honour, and the values of the villains. A damsel in distress who is also quite capable. She’s running from bounty hunters and the trappings of her old world, for her very life, and for freedom. She’s been told that Dumont is the man who could best help her. Dumont is fighting to keep the freedom of the rugged land he lives on. The “Black Grass” part of the novel, toward the end, is brilliant. The physical action is fast-paced throughout. However, I would have found the novel even more satisfying if the plot had been slowed to give more attention to character development. You have very interesting characters; I’d like to get to know them better.

Andrea Martell
Journalism Graduate
Carleton University
Freelance writer/editor
Ottawa ON

Real descriptive power in the settings

The author has used the historical figure of Gabriel Dumont as a British author would use Robin Hood, or an American, Billy the Kid, to relate a story in which the actions attributed to the protagonist, although fictional, are always in character. Black Grass is a lively western story. Its fiction draws on incidents from 1866, plus a good deal of imagination. There is also a real descriptive power in the settings.

(Dr.) Tom Middlebro
Professor of English and Canadian Literature
Carleton University
Ottawa ON

A prime piece of action, well described

I liked it. The characters are well developed and interesting. The tale drew me right from the start and carried me right along to the end without faltering. Of special interest was the portrayal of the politics of the settling of the west. The interchanges between Sitting Bull and Dumont related to how the Sioux and Métis faced mutual challenge because of post American Civil War settler-invasions from the east were engrossing. A prime piece of action, well described, was when Dumont was forced to run the gauntlet in the Sioux encampment. It was also satisfying to learn the source of the book’s title, Black Grass.

Nicholas A. Aplin
Ottawa ON

Two novels in one

While reading the poker game I experienced great suspense wondering who would win. Later in the novel, I was so absorbed by the battle scenes that I began to imagine that I was actually there, forgetting that I was reading. The different pacing in the story suggests two novels in one.

George Prince
Dofasco Metallurgical Department (Retired)
Hamilton ON

A very important public service, but …

You tell a good story. I grew up in the geographical area in which the novel is set but local history was not taught — all we got was the history of England. However, I had problems with the sexuality. For example, Sitting Bull has this kidnapped woman he bought and there is no criticism of his treatment of her. Having said this, I must say that I was drawn to the subject matter by the way it was written and didn’t stop reading until I reached the end five hours later. Besides entertaining, Black Grass is a very important public service.

Dr. Paul Davis Harms
Toronto ON

A delicate balance of sex, violence and history

And a wonderful read it was! You have struck a delicate balance of sex, violence and history that should take the book far. I found the book very well written and very absorbing. It certainly caught me up and held me. As a historian who can get very prickly about the use of historical themes for dramatic affect, I commend you. The weave of historical context around your drama is deft indeed. You have got the touch. Your touch crosses over into my reactions in my other life as an occasional poet. I must say that I was a bit surprised that such a voluble old man is such a minimalist in his creative writing. You move your story along very effectively through sparse images that lead from one very tightly wrought episode to the next. If there is a wasted word I would have to look hard to find it.

Your language is so tight that I find little room for cutting from that direction. The fact that you construct your story from one tight episode to the next does give you leeway to remove entire episodes, and perhaps sequences of related episodes. I fiddled about with this a bit, and whenever I took out an episode or two I found that there was a link that hurt other episodes, whether in character development or historical or geographical context or all of the above. For instance, I messed around with cutting Freckles out of the story after the card game (loved the card game), but the subsequent episode where Davis brings him back is critical to Davis’ character development. And after that episode, Freckles is in. I fiddled with some of the interaction with the Sioux but found that something was lost with each cut. A slight reordering of the place and role of some of the characters might help some, but probably not enough to be worth the effort and the risk of messing up your story.

(Dr.) Ned Hagerman, Professor, Author
Department of History
York University
Toronto ON