The Dream Traders by E V Thompson
|The Dream Traders by E V Thompson|
|Category: Historical Fiction|
|Reviewer: Amit Vyas|
|Summary: Fairly enjoyable comfort reading, the literary equivalent of an epic Sunday afternoon matinee.|
|Buy? Maybe||Borrow? Maybe|
|Pages: 224||Date: February 2010|
|Publisher: Robert Hale|
In the nineteenth century, when European nations are scrabbling to colonise as many territories as possible, a young Englishman sails into Chinese waters seeking fame and fortune. Unlike the rest of his countrymen however, Luke Trewarne refuses to get rich selling opium to the Chinese. All very noble but the fact is that Luke is a passenger on board a ship laden with the stuff and there are Chinese gunships on the horizon.
A skirmish at sea in the very first chapter starts us off with a bang. Luke reaches dry land and the home of trader Ezra McCullough, only to learn that further passage inland is blocked by order of the Emperor. It is only due to an earlier act of small kindness towards a young beggar that Ezra's Chinese mistress arranges to smuggle Luke upriver in a fishing boat.
The fisherman is an opium addict and Luke is forced to accept opium from Ezra to pay for his passage. This immediately puts him odds with his daughter Kuei. Bitterly angry at the 'foreign devils' who bring poison to men like her father, she sees Luke as just another mercenary. It is only Luke's refusal of her father's offer to exchange Kuei for opium that softens her attitude towards him. After several narrow escapes our hero arrives in Canton ready to begin his illustrious trading career.
Of course Luke is destined to make his fortune, help put an end to the opium wars and live happily ever after with Kuei. This isn't the type of book one reads to find out what happens at the end. It's all about enjoying the inevitable bumps in the road and seeing virtue and love triumph over self-interest and those who turn a blind eye to suffering.
Unfortunately, some of the bumps feel somewhat contrived. The novel loses a great deal of steam and readability after the initial push to get Luke into Canton to begin his career and establish his love interest. More characters and set pieces are introduced to keep proceedings from flagging but this does not fail to expose the clunky writing. A lot of the time Luke along with the reader, learn of developments second hand. WE are told and not shown. So much of the plot is driven by 'Luke arrived to learn that such and such had happened', which comes off a bit flat.
The author is au fait with Chinese culture, its history and the temperament of its people and I felt as if I had come away having learned something of the period. Of all the characters General Shengen, leader of the Tartar army, leaps off the page as a hero of countless battlefields and relic of a bygone age. He outshines the main character by far, who comes off as being a bit wet most of the time, with none of the roguish charm of other well known historical adventurers such as Sharpe.
That the novel does not reach for the easy Disney-esque dichotomy of Oriental good, Occidental bad is worthy of praise. It is at heart a coming of age story grounded in historical realism and for the most part delivers serviceable, escapist fun.
I'd like to thank the publishers for providing a copy to the Bookbag.
For more colonisation in the 19th century try The Shangani Patrol by John Wilcox.
You can read more book reviews or buy The Dream Traders by E V Thompson at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy The Dream Traders by E V Thompson at Amazon.com.
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