Friday, 3 October 2014

Guest Book Review: Sarah Lark - Island of a Thousand Springs

Reviewed by Emma Crowley

London, 1732: Nora Reed, the daughter of a merchant, falls hopelessly in love with her father's clerk, Simon. Despite their differing social class, the star-crossed lovers dream of a future on a tropical island - until tragedy strikes, and Nora must face a life without her soulmate. Hopeless, Nora enters a marriage of convenience with Elias Fortnam, a widower and sugar planter in Jamaica. Even without Simon, she is determined to somehow fulfill their tropical fantasy. But life in the Caribbean doesn't turn out as Nora had dreamt. 

Nora is deeply shocked by the way plantation owners treat the slaves and decides to shake things up on her own sugar cane plantation - for the better. Surprisingly, her adult stepson Doug supports her in this endeavor when he arrives from Europe. However, his return also puts things into a state of turmoil - especially Nora's feelings. 

Just as Nora seems to be settling into her role as lady of the house, one harrowing event rips everything from her but her life... 

Amazon links: Kindle

Nowadays lots of books are described as being sweeping sagas and I have to say having read Sarah Lark’s novel Island of a Thousand Springs this definitely fits that category. Sarah Lark’s writing is similar to the stunning novels written by Lesley Pearse. If you are a fan of Lesley’s (like I am) you will certainly love this wonderful, exciting novel. At over 500 pages long you will savour every page as you are taken on a voyage of discovery and transformation.

We first meet Nora Reed in 1700’s London at a time when the merchant trade was reaching its height. Born into a life of privilege her father Thomas Reed has had plenty of success with his business and employs numerous men, one of whom Nora falls over head over heels for. Simon a desk clerk came from a wealthy background but his father had died leaving numerous debts which Simon is struggling to repay. Nora knows Simon does not meet the marriage standards her father desires for her but matters of the heart often rule over the head and they embark upon an affair. Sadly forced to live in the East End Simon contracts consumption and despite Nora’s best efforts at nursing him Simon passes away. Nora is exposed to the poverty and depravation the people of the East End are forced to endure and it is here her caring nature first comes to light. The stark contrast between the rich and poor at this time is demonstrated when Nora gives up everything to care for Simon as we read in great detail the daily grind and struggle these people are forced to cope with.

Nora’s one true love has gone and after two years of grieving she meets Elias Fortnam a sugar cane planter from Jamaica. Yes he is older than her but the one wish Simon and Nora had had was to travel to Jamaica and live there in a hut by the sea. Nora agrees to be married, it is clear she is not marrying for love, it is more a business arrangement but in this way she fulfills her dream. Once we are transported to Jamaica the novel takes on a whole new meaning. There are endless fabulous, evocative descriptions that really made me feel I was there walking in Nora’s footsteps as she lived, breathed and experienced life on a sugar cane plantation and became aware of the harsh realities the slaves were forced to struggle with on a daily basis.

This novel is clearly one of contrasts - in England we see the differences between rich and poor and in Jamaica we see the divide between blacks and whites. Nora truly comes into her own once she settles into life with Elias. She really understands that in order to feel some sort of happiness she must make it for herself and so she begins to care for some of the slaves who are injured while working. Nora goes against tradition and wants to learn how the house slaves work and she establishes tentative connections with them in order to build up their trust. Nora really has a caring, considerate nature , she is sympathetic to the plight of others less fortunate than herself. She seems to be a woman ahead of her time as she sees how things can work better through change. Nora transforms from a timid, shy young girl to a strong, determined mistress of a plantation who is eager to see changes enforced. Changes which will ultimately see the working conditions and the lives of the slaves improved.

Just as Nora begins to settle into her new wondrous life Douglas Fortnam (her stepson) arrives back in Jamaica after studying abroad. This new arrival alongside a destructive hurricane is a huge turning point in the novel and the pace really picks up even more. I don’t want to divulge any more except to say the slaves do really do come to the forefront in the later half and we see exactly what they felt during this time. The action moves away from the plantation and this part of the novel was amazing and so interesting to read about. There are plenty of twists and turns as we race towards an epic conclusion.

I didn’t want this book to end at all, I loved everything about it, there were no lulls or boring bits and I liked how each section was clearly marked where it was going to take place and the years involved. I think I may have just discovered a new favourite author to add to my list as the writing was just fantastic. This would make a superb film and maybe some day we may see this incredible novel on the big screen. After finishing this book I was delighted to discover that Sarah Lark had already written a different trilogy also in the saga vein. I will certainly have to check this out because if these books are anything like Island of a Thousand Springs I am in for a real treat.

Many thanks to Sharon for sending this to me to review and also to Sophie from the ED Public Relations who has helped me discover a great new author.

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