Saturday, March 21, 2020

Sarah Lark - Island of the Red Mangroves

Island of Red Mangroves is the follow-up to Sarah Lark's tumultuous novel, "Island of a Thousand Springs," set in Jamaica, 1732.
-- Jamaica, 1753: Deirdre, daughter of Englishwoman, Nora Fortnam and slave Akwasi, lives a sheltered life on her family's plantation. Her stepfather, Doug, has welcomed her into his life as his own. Despite Deirdre's scandalous origin, the men of the island flock to the young beauty, but she shows no interest. That is, until she is charmed by young doctor Victor Dufresne, who asks for her hand in marriage.
-- After their lavish wedding ceremony, Victor and Deirdre embark to Saint-Domingue on the island of Hispaniola, where Deirdre can live without the burden of her mixed background. But what happens there changes everything ... 

Comment: I was given this book for my birthday last year and only now had the chance to start it. I must say, based on the blurb and cover style, I had a pretty good idea about the overall style of how the story would be like but, of course, I had never read anything by this author so I was expectant about how good it might be. 

In this historical fiction story we follow the life of Deirdre Fortnam, a sheltered young woman who lives with her mother and adopted father in their plantation in Jamaica. Deirdre is a free spirit but she isn't fully aware of how others see her, especially those who know about her origins. The thing is, Deirdre is the daughter of a white woman and a black slave but her adoptive father never saw her as less than a real daughter which means she is raised as the princess of the house, even if the rest of the white society doesn't see her that way.
However, when she turns 18, her family organizes a birthday party and she meets doctor Victor Dufresne, with whom she falls a little in love. After they marry, they travel to Hispaniola, where Victor's parents have a plantation and where Deirdre finds her destiny...

This book is the second in a duology and I haven't read the first one. I think, though, that it isn't necessary to read the books in order because the plot of this one takes place years after the other and although some characters from the first one show up here, the plots are not directly connected.

I didn't enjoy this book due to several plot choices and the characterization of the characters so I feel like being critic of how this book felt like to me. 
Of course others saw it differently, that's the beauty of to each their own.
But this means I'll include several spoilers in my comment/rant.
I went into this read with the notion the story would be based on historical facts and that is very visible because the author manages to create quite an atmosphere and setting and with the notes at the end of the book, we can also understand how some events did happen and how she consulted several sources to come up with her plot.
The plot is obviously centered on the lifestyle and the ruling of whites over blacks and the slave's uprising in the Caribbean islands back in the 18th century. This means the theme often mentions/showcases/describes racism, prejudice, injustice of some over others, as well as violence and crimes.
There's no escaping this subject, since it was, sadly, real facts and real life for people back then. Slavery, however, is a sore topic because I feel impotent about it and it's not pleasant to think so many people suffered so much. 
Therefore, I hoped the author would balance the heavy theme with some wonderful characterization but, for me, that failed.

The Portuguese cover
The characters are pretty much basic. They follow the patterns of behavior expected of them, they go through the motions and react the way they are supposed to, but there was no depth or emotional response by them in the way that would make this a richer novel.
I can accept everything was different, people didn't have the same worries or understanding as we might have now but who cares, most characters are fictional! They could still adhere to the customs of the time and still be unique.

My biggest disappointment comes from Deirdre, the main character. The description of her in the blurb should be indication enough but I wanted to believe she would be a wonderful character but she is, so disappointingly for me, a spoiled brat who didn't think of her actions.
She knows she is lucky to be accepted by her family, she is aware others see her differently. She is entitled to her personality despite these things but she never seems to think properly about her life and how someone else made it possible for her to have her freedom of actions. 

After she marries, she keeps acting as everything is the same in the new place she goes to live with her husband, even though her family is no longer there to act as a buffer.
But Deirdre meets another guy and they have an affair. I just could not respect the heroine any longer because she had no reason - nor material, nor emotional - to cheat on her husband. She never feels sorry, she never seems to be ashamed and not even when she finds out her lover is actually her brother, she dismisses him! I mean! The customs could be different and the author can have all the logic in the worlds with talk of similarities being reason for two people to be attracted but, come on!

I just couldn't enjoy the story any longer and everything that happens after that only felt like filling to me.
The fact the other guy is involved in the slaves' uprising (no matter how valid) was just annoying because he was a pirate too and this topic and all the descriptions of piracy just flow through my head since I have no interest in it. Had the characters been captivating, that could be endured, but this way... no.

I keep thinking this was a missed opportunity. The author gave in to silly content, she picked some notes about subjects here and there and she dumped them into this plot.
The characters could have turned this into an epic book but for me this didn't happen.
I kept wishing for the characters to act accordingly to what was right, to be emotionally aware of their actions... like, say, in Susanna Kearsley's books, often the historical parts convey scenes/customs of the time and the characters still behave in an acceptable manner.

All in all, this was a frustrating book, and not even the historical data and facts made it a good read. I admit this is easy to read, the writing style is simple but, then again, perhaps that is why no depth seemed to be conveyed to the characters.
I don't think I'd want to try another book by this author.
Grade: 3/10

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