The Boy in a Turban by Joseph Hucknall

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The Boy in a Turban by Joseph Hucknall

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Category: Historical Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: A well researched and pacy novel covering the life of James, brought to Georgian London as a slave, and who has a great talent for music. A thoroughly enjoyable read, peopled with vivid characters, and you'll get a spot of historical education along the way.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 290 Date: June 2018
Publisher: Book Guild
ISBN: 978-1912362660

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You might not think that Georgian London contained many black people. But it contained more than you think. You may have heard of Francis Barber, the black African slave who became the friend of lexicographer Samuel Johnson and was a beneficiary of his will. The Boy in a Turban tells the story of a fictional black character, James, in Georgian London. James, then Quaccoe, is brought to the capital from a Jamaican plantation by a ship captain who wanted a servant for his two daughters. The Atlantic crossing is eventful, to say the least, and what happens on board follows James through the rest of the book. Once in London, James is found to have great musical talent and this takes him all the way to court and an introduction to Prince Frederick. It's a full half century before slavery is abolished and James's adventures, which are many, hold up to scrutiny the precarious position those black Georgian Londoners were in...

The Boy in a Turban is peopled by a large cast of characters, all vividly drawn and well-rounded. You'll meet historical luminaries - Prince George (the future King George III), the composer George Frideric Handel, and the artist William Hogarth - and they are all given their own personalities in keeping with the historical record. But perhaps the fictional characters are most interesting - they come with a vigour and a vitality that rises from the pages and brings eighteenth century England to rowdy, raucous life, first among them Quaccoe, who becomes James, and who dominates the book with his love of music, freedom and life itself. The novel is also well-researched, with lots of detail about daily life and a great many important historical events taking place in the background.

The plot is pacy and eventful - you'll read of court pageantry and high society but you'll also see kidnap and murder alongside love affairs and weddings. Everything centres around James, the young slave boy plucked from a plantation in Jamaica and brought to London where his musical talent is discovered. The Atlantic crossing to England and what happened to the passengers on it is the fulcrum around which the narrative progression moves forward. James's future and fate is entwined with those passengers right up until the very last pages.

The Boy in a Turban was a thoroughly enjoyable read. It held my attention from the first page to the last and packs a lot into its 260 pages - love, loss, passion, tragedy, and an intelligent examination of the history of sins and triumphs of Britain in its time of empire. This is one for readers who enjoy an eventful and rollicking but thoughtful and accurate historical story. If this is you, I think you'll like The Boy in a Turban. I certainly did!

If you're interested in an accurate historical account of the British slave trade, look no further than The Grand Slave Emporium: Cape Coast Castle and the British Slave Trade by William St Clair. For other adventures in Georgian England, try Instruments of Darkness by Imogen Robertson.

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Buy The Boy in a Turban by Joseph Hucknall at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Boy in a Turban by Joseph Hucknall at


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