Genre: Fiction, Historical Fiction
Islands of Mercy is a masterful book by the author of other historical fiction classics such as Restoration, Music and Silence and Merival. I have loved all of these books so I had a feeling (and rightfully so) that I would really enjoy this book.
Set in Victorian era Bath and across the seven seas to Borneo – this book is both intimate and epic, as well as being incredibly modern despite being set in the Victorian era. I loved the strong female lead characters and the way the male characters played second fiddle to them. The women in the book wrestle with Victorian era conundrums that are still relevant today – domesticity and child-rearing versus the free, unencumbered life. Being straight versus being a lesbian. Of course, the consequences for being unmarried lesbian in the Victorian era are incomparable to now.
Without giving too much away about the characters or their narrative trajectory in the book this is a book told across two very different but interconnected lives. Jane Adeane, a towering unconventional beauty and a nurse who lives in the comfort of 19th Century Bath in England and Sir Ralph Savage, a slightly naive, well-meaning and also hopelessly entitled British landowner in Borneo. Both main characters grapple with how to live in the conventional straight-jacket of their world while knowing that they are undeniably different to the norm. This book held me captivated in its grasp and didn’t let go. It’s vivid, emotionally raw, psychologically complex and sexually charged. As I approached the end I had a sad sinking feeling that I would miss this world and the characters within it. It was with great reluctance that I finished it. I would whole-heartedly recommend this for a weekend of gloriously indulgent reading.