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Gosh this a fascinating little book, I really did feel as though I was discovering a forgotten manuscript. Translators notes greet you at the start, advising that a complete text from the 11th century has been found and translated using cryptology. Thomas Woodward describes his life from 1066 when he was taken in after a raid and trained to become a spy, through to 1098 when he explains his life and the decisions he has made to his son. James Hutson-Wiley has created a simple diary-like discourse, Thomas describes the world around him, in particular, the trade of goods, including sugar, with clarity. Stuffed full of interesting tidbits I sank into this world and galloped through the pages. The Sugar Merchant surprised me, I thoroughly enjoyed my sojourn to the 11th century and found a fluid, absorbing and worthwhile read.
When Thomas's family is annihilated in a raid, his life changes forever. Wandering for days, starving and hopeless, he is rescued by a monk and is taken to live at the abbey of Eynsham. There he receives a curious education, training to be a scholar, a merchant and a spy. His mission: to develop commerce in Muslim lands and dispatch vital information to the Holy See. His perilous adventures during the 11th century's commercial revolution will take him far from his cloistered life to the great trading cities of Almeria, Amalfi, Alexandria and Cairo. But the world in which he lives is chaotic. Struggling with love and loss, faith and fortune, can Thomas carry out his secret mission before conflict overtakes him? Spanning the tumultuous medieval worlds of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, The Sugar Merchant is a tale of clashing cultures, massive economic change and one man's determination to fulfil his destiny. The 11th century world through which Thomas Woodward travels is changing; marked by the emergence of a disruptive commercial revolution. In the Mediterranean, the great Abrahamic faiths of Judaism, Christianity and Islam meet, often in cooperation and peace but, at times, in bloody conflict. It is an era of migration, globalism and multiculturalism leading to a robust interchange of technology, ideas and the basic tools of international trade. But, the interests of the Christian west are on a collision course with those of the Muslim world. War is coming. The Church is rallying the nobles of Europe to embark on an `armed pilgrimage' to reclaim the Holy Land. Now, Thomas and his Muslim and Jewish partners' lucrative sugar trade is in jeopardy. Thomas's own secret and dangerous mission, directed from Rome, will become filled with even greater peril. The Sugar Merchant explores the massive cultural and economic change occurring in the later part of the 11th century through the eyes of a fictional participant, Thomas Woodward, and his Jewish and Muslim merchant partners. This turbulent period of history marked the creation of a European commercial economy based upon global trade and the birth of capitalism. New innovations in technology, finance, navigation and commercial organization were developed, often as a result of the robust exchange of knowledge between the Christian west and the Islamic east. Long-established political and social structures began a radical process of transformation, eventually leading to political, spiritual and physical conflict. Thomas is a witness to, and may become a victim of, this remarkable revolution.
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The Sugar Merchant follows the adventures of scholar and merchant Thomas Woodward. A twist of fate and a tragic childhood loss leads to him being adopted by a group of monks from a nearby abbey. It is there he meets the people who will ultimately play a role in shaping his future.
In essence, this book can be considered a coming-of-age story. Readers will see how Thomas develops from a naive young man into an enterprising and respected individual in his own right. This evolution was shown through chapters detailing his transactions and interactions with the people he meets on his journey.
As a character, however, Thomas would have had more depth if equal attention were given to his own personal journey, not just as a scholar but also as a man. His relationships with God and with other people were never fully explored because of the need to narrate where his next voyage will take him. It was thrilling to read about the perils of the high seas and the age-old conflict between the Muslim and Christian world, but equally, readers would also have liked to discover what it meant to Thomas to give up his faith in order to wed the woman he loved and other details of a more personal nature. There is no doubt, however, that the book is well researched. Plot elements such as the contentious issue of religion, the fraught relationship among traders, and the tenuous peace between neighboring states consistently reflected the setting and the time period of the novel. In addition, the research was integrated into the book in such a way that it still read like fiction rather than an encyclopedia. Apart from the accurate depictions of war and conflict, readers will also gain insight into the impact of something as global as war on the everyday lives of the people living in that period.
James Hutson-Wiley was able to deftly provide a richly detailed narrative without burdening the plot with unnecessary trimmings and fillers. There were slight tendencies to dwell a little too much on the value of spice, the price of sugar, and other issues connected to trade. However, the author's writing is so clear, crisp, and easy-to-follow that readers will still remain engaged even when reading about commerce.
The author was also skilled at describing people and places. The tumultuous history of early Europe, as well as the Middle East, served as a backdrop for the protagonist's journey. The author's vivid descriptions were evocative of the sights, sounds, and sensations of that era. There was also a careful and painstaking attention to even the most minute of details that added to the authentic feel of the book.
Though quite lengthy, readers will enjoy sinking their teeth into this book and getting lost in the annals of time. A full cast of characters, an intrepid hero, and an exciting plot were placed in the hands of a truly skilled author for the enjoyment of fans of historical fiction. Combining action and adventure with bursts of humor and humanity, this novel truly showcases the genre at its best.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Publication date: 24/10/2018
Publisher: New Generation Publishing
Format: Trade Paperback
|Publication date:||24th October 2018|
|Publisher:||New Generation Publishing|
|Genres:||Action Adventure / Spy, Historical Fiction, Indie Books We Love,|
Jim Hutson-Wiley's long career in international trade and project finance involved extensive travel and residence in the Near East and Europe. He graduated with a BSFS from the Georgetown School of Foreign Service and received an MBA from the Wharton School. He currently lives in Miami, Florida.More About James Hutson-Wiley