To The Fair Land by Lucienne Boyce
A historical novel that shows the excitement of selling a book that everyone wants a copy of in the late 1700s was always going to grab my attention, and this book certainly did right from the beginning. There are various reasons that people are desperate to get their hands on this book, the fantastic illustrations, the poetic writing, the mysterious author that no one can identify, but mainly because it describes a magical country of people so very different from the British, with fantastic natural resources. This is an age of European countries trying to grab new space, new colonies, and the promise of a spacious previously undiscovered island and potentially more at the edge of the world cannot be ignored. Ben Dearlove is a struggling writer given an opportunity to make his fortune in London, who soon realizes that this book could change his life, if he can only find the author and obtain the publishing of a second volume for his friend Mr Dowling. While he feels that he may have a few extra clues to help in his search, he has no idea that tracking down the truth will be fraught with so many dangers and challenges.
This is a well-paced novel which has some marvelous set pieces, as not only Ben’s quest is recalled but also stories of families and voyages that shock and surprise. Boyce brings in some fascinating characters that reveal their stories in great detail, against a background of secrecy and danger. The research is so impressive in the details as well as the narrative as a whole, but it never slows the action down. This is a well written book which I greatly enjoyed, and I was very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review it.
The book actually opens with a performance representing “ The Life and Death of Captain Cook”. While Ben and the rest of the audience finds it fascinating, his neighbour, a young woman, keeps muttering about it in a negative way, calling Captain Cook’s discoveries “A fool’s discoveries”. The rest of the audience, much affected by the play and the tragic death of the hero, attack the strange woman. Ben saves her and sees her home, only to spot one or two interesting aspects of her life. When Dowling is overwhelmed by demand for “An Account of a Voyage to the Fair Land” “Who would have thought that book lovers could be so warlike?”, Ben realizes that there may be clues as to the much sought after author’s identity, and determines to track them down, despite his friend Campbell’s doubts. When this seems to involve journeys and real risk, even Ben begins to wonder why he is being followed by two men, and how it will affect those around him.
This is a novel that manages to maintain suspense to the end, as well as surprising the reader with some unexpected twists. For a relatively short novel it includes many twists and turns that took me by surprise, as well as some lyrical passages of descriptions of a different way of life. The author conveys the harsh realities of life on board ship, as well as the political interest in a different land. I would thoroughly recommend this book as being full of historical mysteries, fascinating characters and peril. It is not a long read, but packs in so much as Ben tries to establish the reality behind a popular book at the risk of so much.