A mighty read this, I feel bereft now that I’ve finished it, always a sign of a writer who can fascinate and engross the reader over 500 pages or so. This novel has at its heart the Chilean civil war – who knew? Not me. It is also inspired by the life and exploits of the author’s great great uncle, a Welsh lad who ran away to sea and became the captain of a steamship carrying mail and cargo up and down the Chilean coast in the latter years of the 19th Century.
Forced to turn his ship over to the government side in the insurrection he then carried troops and ammunition, facing all the usual moral quandaries of loyalty and betrayal amongst his colleagues and shipmates as well as the horrors of engagement. Other strands of the story are deftly woven in to the complex tapestry of events and provide richness and increased understanding of the pressures involved. Parliamentary questions are asked about the danger to British commercial interests in Chilean minerals and an English journalist dispatched by The Times to report on the rebellion finds that the ‘facts’ required by his editor do not match up to the ‘facts’ he finds on the ground in Valparaiso.
I found this a totally satisfying novel, full of history told with a light hand and with the spark of adventure, with credible characters and a sure touch with the setting of an important Chilean port in the late 1800s. A cracker!