I first came across this book in the office of SilverWood Books and was intrigued by the cover and the title. Securing my own copy, I began to read, and was instantly caught up in its world, and haunted by it long after I’d finished reading.
From the first page, this extraordinary book plunges the reader into late 18th century London’s heady social mix of theatres and coffee-houses, before venturing down to Bristol – then a major seaport – and casting off to find the eponymous country. It’s a period in history that I until then I had known chiefly from the television comedy series, Blackadder the Third, and To the Fair Land swiftly supplanted my dubious impressions with a more accurate, richer understanding of the age.
There were lots of things I loved about this book:
- detailed characterisation to explain each player’s motives
- masterful prose, creating a multi-sensory experience of the many settings described
- fascinating settings, especially for anyone with prior interest in London’s theatreland or the historic maritime city of Bristol and its seafaring traditions
- an added bonus for anyone interested in publishing technology: the bookselling episodes are fascinating
But even if none of the settings or themes are of prior interest to you, you should find the plot thrilling, and with deep human topics and values at its core. Like a good Sherlock Holmes, the story leaves you pondering on the human condition long after you’ve finished the final page.
I was also very struck by the clever graphic design of the paperback – the cover suggesting old parchment maps, and a frontispiece in the form of a playbill – very atmospheric.
I enjoyed this book so much that I’ve since bought several copies to give away as presents to friends. It really deserves a much wider audience.
I’m now looking forward to the publication of Lucienne Boyce’s next novel, for which I had the privilege of being a beta reader. (We’ve also become good friends, as I joined the local Historical Novel Society book group not long after I’d read her book. No, I’m not stalking her, honest!)
And don’t worry, reading To The Fair Land won’t make Blackadder the Third any less enjoyable! (By the way, did you know there is a typeface called Blackadder? One look at it and you’ll start humming the theme tune, I promise!)
I recommend To The Fair Land for anyone interested in 18th century England, London, Bristol, Britain’s seafaring history, and mysteries.
Find out more about Lucienne Boyce at her author website – she’s a very busy lady with wide-ranging historical interests, often involved in lectures and other historical themed events: www.lucienneboyce.com.
(Try and get the paperback, if you can – your local bookshop will order it for you
because it is a very beautiful book in print!)