Monday, September 6, 2010
The Time of Terror (Historical Fiction)
Author: Seth Hunter
Publication Date: 2010 in the US (2008 in the UK)
Length: 391 pages
Cost: The list price for the hardcover is $24.95, but you can buy a new hardcover from Amazon for $16.47. The Kindle edition is $9.99, and there is presently no paperback available.
Where Did I Hear About It: I pulled it off of the "New Books" shelf in the library.
The novel is set in 1793, and its central figure is Nicholas Peake, a young ship's commander with an exhaulted father and a none-too-conventional mother. Through a series of events, he is given a new identity (Nicholas Turner, American), a new ship (Speedwell, also American), and a mysterious cargo of tobacco to bring to Le Havre by the British government.
Turner falls in with three important people in Paris, Gilbert Imlay, Mary Wollstonecraft, and Sara Seton. Gilbert and Mary are romantically linked, and Sara, a friend, is the wife of a French aristocrat in exile in Austria. It is through them, particularly Imlay, that Turner is involved in the important events of the day. France is in the midst of the Reign of Terror of Robespierre and his Committee of Public Safety. At this point, no one is safe--countless innocent people fill the available prisons and batch after batch are executed by the guillotine daily. Mary stays out of the action by retiring to her home just outside of the city, and after a while, the reader will not see much of her. Sara, under a different surname, attempts to hide her aristocratic link from the authorities, living in Paris. Imlay is some sort of agent with some kind of plan that isn't clear to either Turner or the reader for most of the book. The only thing Turner and the reader know is that Imlay believes that the Terror has gone far enough and someone needs to end it.
There is lots of action in this novel, all following Turner. Turner meets with action at sea, both natural and with other ships, and he moves from England to France multiple times with new orders from the English, all centering around an attempt to bring down the Revolutionary government. On the inside, it is clear that all is not well in France as dissent is revealed from within, and notable potential victims of the Terror start to mount up, including Thomas Paine of American fame. It is clear to Turner that Imlay is playing some sort of double-game with him as well, and even Turner himself spends some time in prison. When Turner begins to figure out the plot and its purpose, the Terror comes to a head for all characters involved, and not all come out alive.
What About The Book?
This is A GREAT BOOK! Hunter has many things going for him--he knows maritime history well, he knows ships well, and he knows the time period well. This combination helps him write a really great story that keeps the reader guessing until the very end.
Although Hunter knows maritime history and ships' terms, he does not allow that knowledge to bog down the narrative. Even someone with no knowledge of ships can figure out what he's talking about when he discusses a portion of the ship that, say, is damaged in some way. He also knows the events during the Reign of Terror, and he manages to make them part of the novel without "forcing" them in, in an unclear or unrelated way. He puts a story together very well, focusing on the action rather than trying to explain every little detail of every possible event. For example, he jumps between what are clearly important events and many times, will leave out a direct description of what occurs in between those events, alluding to what may have happened in succeeding chapters. This technique works very well--the reader never feels like something was missing or lost, and instead, often feels a sense of relief that he/she doesn't have to plod through less interesting, and unrelated, events to the story.
The only drawback is that outside of the events and the setting, it is hard to picture this as a true historical fiction. It has a modern feel to it--modern in its beliefs, attitudes towards society, and dialogue. All women are pretty well liberated here, which is great from a modern standpoint but completely incorrect in the context of the times. There is a focus on the importance of money and the incorporation of a little too much of modern economic theory into it that provides a very intersting plot line, but is perhaps too much interpreted from today's lens. It is also very simply written with focus on action and dialogue--don't expect any long descriptions here, and for some, that will detract. Otherwise, it keeps the reader interested throughout, and all events are put to a purpose by the author.
Rating: A 9. It was great--a little too quick a read, but enjoyable from beginning to end.
Buy It or Borrow It: With a book like this and a price around $15, you can't go wrong to buy it. However, you won't lose anything by borrowing it, either. I do recommend you do one of those, though, because it is one of the best books I've read in a long time.