Hello readers! I hope you’re all safe and well and have enjoyed the sunshine this week. I’ve had a really good week so far. We’re now able to meet 1 person outside of households so I finally saw some of my lovely friends this week, which I haven’t been able to do for months! I had a lovely socially distanced picnic in the park with one friend and a walk with another which was great as it felt a bit more like normality, plus I’ve really missed them! Alongside that we’ve had some great weather so I’ve been spending lots of time on walks and reading in the garden, which I’ve adored spending time doing. We get lovely birds visiting in the garden, particularly one very handsome little Robin! So its nice to be in the sunshine, reading amongst the birds without a schedule to worry about and able to read for as long as I wish.
This week’s review is on Laura Shepherd-Robinson’s ‘Blood & Sugar’, a historical fiction debut novel that has swept over our instagram feeds and which has quickly become a ‘must-read’ for fans of historical fiction (which I’ve found myself becoming lately!). So when my lovely friend turned up to my house (pre-lockdown) with this book as a surprise gift, I was super grateful and very excited to read it!
BLOOD & SUGAR, BY LAURA SHEPHERD-ROBINSON
June, 1781. An unidentified body hangs upon a hook at Deptford Dock – horribly tortured and branded with a slaver’s mark.
Some days later, Captain Harry Corsham – a war hero embarking upon a promising parliamentary career – is visited by the sister of an old friend. Her brother, passionate abolitionist Tad Archer, had been about to expose a secret that he believed could cause irreparable damage to the British slaving industry. He’d said people were trying to kill him, and now he is missing . . .
To discover what happened to Tad, Harry is forced to pick up the threads of his friend’s investigation, delving into the heart of the conspiracy Tad had unearthed. His investigation will threaten his political prospects, his family’s happiness, and force a reckoning with his past, risking the revelation of secrets that have the power to destroy him.
And that is only if he can survive the mortal dangers awaiting him in Deptford…
With the promise of a murder mystery, a historical thriller, conspiracy theories and the brutal backdrop of the British Slave trade on offer, I was sincerely excited to begin this novel and really hoped that the execution was as good as the synopsis.
When you initially open the book you’ll find 3 pages of characters and a map. I absolutely loved this concept because I felt that it was an aid to the reader instantly, maps are always useful for picturing a scene in your mind and you can visualise how a character would get from one location to another, if the streets are small or wide, if there are rivers or streams to cross, etc. However I also then worried that this would become a book where I would be flipping backwards and forwards and become quickly lost within a web of characters and completely lose my way (and interest). But thankfully, I only needed to refer to the list once!
The synopsis pretty much explains the story that will unfold, but what cannot be accounted for is the amount of corruption, bribery, drugs, sex and secrets that Harry will unearth on the way. There is no official police force just yet, so many in power turn a blind eye or carry their own motives for solving (or ignoring) a crime.
The story takes us upon a winding path, twisting and turning and varying in pace. I found that each time we believe that Harry may have found the killer and the reason why, we discover he is wrong and the story takes us another route, it kept us on our toes. My most favourite element of the book had to be in the description of London and Deptford itself. I live in a city that had functioning docks and the descriptions of Deptford were so well-executed that I was easily transported into 18th century life on the docks. Dirty, smelly, rough, full of crime, murder and undesirables. I could smell the sea water and hear the shouts on the docks, I could very easily see this being made into a Netflix limited series or a BBC Drama.
The subject matter that is really at hand here is the despicable slave trade, the practices (particularly the events that unfolded aboard ‘The Dark Angel’) and constant racism that took place in these times. It is an uncomfortable read and rightly so – however what I feel makes the reader warm to Harry & Tad is that these guys are seemingly the only white characters in the story to be fighting for abolishment at both personal and professional cost. It was interesting and saddening to hear the tales from slaves who had experienced being bought, shipped and sold themselves, but also in how the cold and callous way that men who believed themselves to be good, god fearing men, could think of other human beings as mere cargo; something to be insured, stored and sold – like sugar. It is this ruffling of the feathers amongst the many characters in Dartford that Tad had caused that ultimately leads him to his death. Harry’s job is to find out why, and who.
I really enjoyed some of the side characters in the book, my favourite being Jamaica Mary, a prostitute popular with many in town. I liked her character as she is quick witted, strong, gutsy and smart. She’s been through so much but comes across as a ‘take no shit’ warrior, despite what had happened to her in the past or by the circumstances she finds herself in. Also with each character there appeared a secret to hide; each one trying to throw Harry off the scent because they didn’t want to be discovered to be involved in something that they shouldn’t be.
I did however find that Harry appeared to meet a lot of men in inns and back alleys, which I’m sure would have been the case, but it doesn’t make for exciting story telling. There were some moments where I felt like I wanted some of the conversations to hurry up and that the tale was dragging its feet a little. My other issue main issue with the novel is that I felt that Harry had been wrong so many times throughout the book, but at the end he instantly realises all of the necessary clues to Tad’s murderer and each piece of the puzzle and assumption he then makes turns out to be right. It’s too easy, too fast paced and not in line with the rest of the book, given that he got it wrong so many times.
CAN’T PUT IT DOWN RATING: 4/5
This book was absolutely among the best works of historical fiction I’ve ever read. It was engaging, it was shocking, it had me turning pages quickly in most places and I really was transported to the docks of 1781. I felt by the end the story that I had been around London and back. I felt for so many of the characters that had been so wrongly treated by people that treated them like any old cargo, for those who had been freed and yet still had to live within the confines of a racist society because of the colour of their skin.
What makes this book such a high quality read is very much down to the clear research that the author has completed. Sadly the events abroad ‘The Dark Angel’ are true, although it was on a ship called ‘Zong’. Knowing that these practices happened makes the book and its characters much easier to connect with than something that is a pure work of fiction.
On the very last page it mentions the Bill for the Abolition of the Slave trade and it’s architect, William Wilberforce. I admit that this brought a tear to my eye at this point. William Wilberforce was born 3 miles from my home and he stands in our city centre tall and proud atop a huge statue. We are taught very young here about who he was, about why what he did was so important, that racism does not belong anywhere in society, and we are proud to say that he was one of ours. Personally for me, this really tied the novel to reality, in a very bittersweet way.
I would highly recommend this novel to those who are fans of historical fiction, and look forward to reading Shepherd-Robinson’s second novel, ‘Daughters of the night’ which was due to be released in June but is now delayed until January 2021.
Where to Buy:
Hardback: Blackwell’s, £11.99
Paperback: Waterstones, £6.99
WASHED DOWN WITH
Many, many cups from this jar of coffee, I’ve had to buy more! I love this flavour so much! So orangey and tangy, like eating a Jaffa cake for breakfast without the guilt (or judgement!). I love beanies – sugar free, 2 cals a cup, suitable for many intolerances (check online) – including me who has to avoid dairy, and theyre in sooo many flavours! .
This one is available for you to purchase -safely and as part of your next shop- at @aldiuk 🙂
That’s it for this week lovelies, but I shall see you next week for my next review which I cannot wait to share with you, because I LOVED IT!! Remember as always you can find me on instagram and Facebook where I post regular book chat and reading updates (bookdates?), just search for @papyrusandpeppermint.