Friday, September 22, 2017

A Fisher of Slaves - Dick Parsons

Summary: Always having wanted to follow in the footsteps of his father killed in 1759 in the Battle of Quiberon Bay, 13 year old Nathaniel persuades his reluctant mother to allow him to pursue a career at sea, but owing to a foolish misunderstanding, he serves his apprenticeship on a slave-trading ship. Her new-found horror of the slave trade and fears that her innocent son will be corrupted by it fires an unrelenting desire for its abolition. Her son’s life in a slaver, the horrors of the trade and her struggles to do “something for those poor creatures” are all beautifully bound up in this story which is difficult to put down. (Summary from, image from I was provided a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.)

Review: I like to listen to a popular history podcast. As a history buff, I could never get enough in school, and I love looking at specific instances in history in a deeper manner than a lecture designed to cover a decade or a century would entail. I subscribe to the belief that the more we know about history, the more prepared we are to choose more wisely and to avoid the same pitfalls our predecessors have. However, I struggle when the hosts of my favorite podcasts try to apply their current standards of living to situations centuries earlier. (Honestly, I could go on a whole tirade about the sanctimony and holier-than-thou attitude that accompanies that certain pitfall. But I won’t.) 

Unfortunately, I found that this attitude permeated this novel to the fullest extent. While there is no one who can deny that enslaving another human being is wholly wrong, I was bothered through the book by the broad-strokes that the author painted his characters. Were anyone to only read this book and no other historical text, one would think that the entire 17th century was ruled and practically populated solely by their equivalent of drug lords, pimps, and dog fighters, with only a small few people to be found with any goodness at all.

However, I can imagine why the author would choose to separate his characters so drastically. It certainly makes the writing easier if there are only black and white characters, unfortunately, it also makes the writing lazy, and I found that the laziness permeated the entire story. While the author certainly is knowledgeable about sailing, the passages that dealt with the ships were truly the only passages I found interesting. His passion for ships and the sea were evident, bringing life to those words that I found lacking throughout the rest of the story. 

The characters were, as mentioned earlier, either perfect or evil. That’s just not realistic. Never in my life have I met someone who is perfectly evil or perfectly good. Even the most despicable people I’ve either met or studied have had a measure of good in them, and the lack of that measure in these characters made them wholly foreign. I couldn’t relate to any of them at all, despite how desperately I tried. 
As for the story itself, I found it simplistic in the extreme. The only conflicts that arose were resolved within a paragraph, again, contributing to the dragging of the story. (In my personal notes about this book, instead of writing why I disliked it or why it didn’t resonate me, I only wrote “No.”. So, there’s that.)

There are so many reasons a book doesn’t find purchase with a reader. Truthfully, I expected more overall, and since it didn’t deliver, I was left disappointed. I can’t in good conscience recommend this to anyone, however. It’s simply too haphazard. 

Rating: One star

For the Sensitive Reader: Rape of a slave happens more than once, mistreatment of the slaves, misogyny, various anachronistic phrases, places, and things. 

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