Bristol in 1787 is booming, a city where power beckons those who dare to take risks. Josiah Cole, a small dockside trader, is prepared to gamble everything to join the big players of the city. But he needs capital and a well-connected wife.
Marriage to Frances Scott is a mutually convenient solution. Trading her social contacts for Josiah's protection, Frances finds her life and fortune dependent on the respectable trade of sugar, rum, and slaves.
Into her new world comes Mehuru, once a priest in the ancient African kingdom of Yoruba, now a slave in England. From opposite ends of the earth, despite the difference in status, Mehuru and Frances confront each other and their need for love and liberty.
This moral spellbinder, set in Bristol, England, in the slave-trading 1780s, is being freshly issued a decade after publication Although the sentences are not as fine as in Gregory's current work (The Other Boleyn Girl etc.), and the plot takes some awkward leaps, the book brilliantly shocks the conscience with its intimate and unsparing portrait of slavery. It's a romance, but not a sentimental one, built around the impossible love between white slave owner Frances Scott Cole and the black African Mehuru, a priest and adviser to his king before being kidnapped and designated as property. A strength of the book is that although Gregory, as usual, makes us feel the second-class status of 18th century women, she draws no cheap comparison between Frances's status as silk-clad chattel (to her gaspingly ambitious slave-trader husband, Josiah's) and the rigors and terrors of a black slave's life. Superb portraits abound, especially that of Josiah's sister, Sarah, a cranky spinster who makes poetry of her pride in being a member of the trading class, eagle-eyed at the account books. Gregory's vivid portrait leaves one feeling complicit; as the abolitionist Doctor Hadley notes: "the cruelty we have learned will poison us forever."
Customer ReviewsSee All
Tricks of the Trade
The details of British merchant life were a bit much at times but the end was fulfilling and surprising. Wish P-Greggs would make a sequel!
Wow, an enthralling book. A masterful story weaving together characters, history and reality. Couldn't put it down!!