Just as the will of these two women come on display over the course of the book, there is another persistent indomitable force — the weather. Whether in the form of blizzards, the humidity of summer, the omnipresent wind, the flooding of the Red River or the profoundly beautiful changes it brings to the land over the seasons, the weather is a constant presence in the lives of these people. This is particularly so given the isolation and distance among the many families and individuals living outside established communities and the fact that not only their livelihood but their lives depend on the weather.
Finally, Marshall, who grew up on a farm in the Red River Valley and now teaches English at the University of Michigan, weaves the territorial politics of the time into the story. Various characters, including Frances' husband, take the reader to the territorial capital in Yankton, in what is now southeastern South Dakota, nearly 300 miles from the Red River Valley. This gives us a glimpse of not only the debate over the capital's location and dividing the territory into two states, but also the chicanery and graft underlying and influencing much of the political debate. By occasionally taking the story inside the powers and efforts trying to bring people to the prairie and the disadvantages to which individual families were subjected by those same promoters, Dakota is historical fiction that entertains and educates.
Although at an important storyline involving Frances is particularly modern, Dakota is presented in a style that echoes the motifs of late 19th Century American literature, even with its chapter headings. The story unfolds at a relatively leisurely pace. While some readers might find it too leisurely, the pace has the feel of the gradual change of seasons. Occasionally, the book's breadth can be a weakness as, for example, some characters or episodes almost seem like vehicles intended to take the reader to particular places or to place the story in a context with historical events those unfamiliar with the Dakotas will know. Ultimately, though, the book is a meticulous tapestry intended to show how life was lived and how some prospered, some failed and "most just hung on." It is an homage not only to the people but to the land and the profound relationship between the two.