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 ...
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Island of the Red Mangroves is the follow up to the stunning novel Island of a Thousand Springs by Sarah Lark. My review for that book is already on the blog. I was really hoping for a second book as I felt there was even more content with which to continue on with the story. The first book was set on a slave plantation in Jamaica but now the focus turns to the next generation of the Fortnam family - Deirdre, daughter of English woman Nora and stepdaughter to Doug. The beginning of the book is based at Cascarilla Gardens in Jamaica but soon moves to the stunning island of Hispaniola. Book one was a superb historical fiction novel where I found Sarah Lark to be at the top of her game and obviously enjoying every minute of the writing process. I dove into this story anticipating a detailed, absorbing read packed full of adventure, scandal and romance. I got all that and plenty more. I loved every minute of this wonderful book despite it's length and at times a significant amount of concentration was required but Sarah Lark has once again produced a novel of epic proportions that has left me astounded.
It's not strictly necessary to have read the first book in the series and a good trilogy should allow you to join it at any stage, the background information is nicely slipped in at various points during the first few chapters. But book one was so marvellous I feel for the reader to get the full value of this next instalment try reading Island of a Thousand Springs first. You will view the characters and the setting in a whole new light and understand more the events that have brought the characters to where they are now. Deirdre Fortnam lives on one of the richest plantations in Jamaica where new practices have been put in place to allow the slaves to have freedom and better working conditions. She has led a privileged life where has been allowed to do as she pleases. She regular attracts the attention of male suitors although the parents of these men may not approve of Deirdre’s background referring to her as a mulatto. Deirdre has no real intentions of marrying, loving her idyllic life and the freedom to ride on her horse on beautiful sandy beaches and bathe in crystal clear seas. That is until she encounters Doctor Victor Dufresne at her 18th birthday party, she experiences emotions and feelings she never knew existed and soon they are engaged. Despite initial misgivings from the grooms parents the young couple soon leave for a new exciting life on the island of Hispaniola and this is where the book really gets going and comes into its own. The action begins and literally never lets up until the very last line and boy did I thoroughly enjoy every moment of it.
Running concurrently alongside the story of Deirdre and Victor is the tale of Bonnie and Jefe. I can't go into too much detail regarding Jefe as his background had been explained in book one and to say anything here would ruin the surprise for readers. The pair are disillusioned with their lives on the Cayman Islands, Bonnie is a slave and her backra is cruel, dishonest and abusive. Enough is enough so when Jefe wants a better life and steals away in the dead of night to escape on a pirate ship Bonnie joins him. New names are created and they become Bobbie and Caesar. Such ingenuity and bravery from the pair is only to be admired and I loved reading their sections of the novel until they merged with life on Hispaniola in at times the most sinister of ways. Bonnie was so courageous to leave with pirates pretending to be a man in what was a tough and ruthless world. This aspect of the novel was fascinating as being honest you do tend to forget that pirates actually existed all those years ago and were not just something you see on the big screen. The scenes here were action packed and rich in descriptive detail.
When the two stories do merge together we are in for one explosive, roller coaster ride. There is way too much detail to even give you a flavour of what goes on. But the issue of slavery and racial injustice comes to the forefront and reminds the reader just how far we have come in many ways even though in some aspects we have a lot of changes still to make . Sarah Lark did a phenomenal job in conveying so many emotions that made me change opinions of characters numerous times. I loved Victor, he was a true gentleman and loved Deirdre with all his heart. He wanted to provide the best life he could for her whilst at the same time maintaining a doctors practice. He never let racial prejudice from others get in the way of how he treated people and everyone always got the respect and treatment they deserved from him. I'd love to be able to say Deirdre had no faults and was as admirable as her mother but that is not the case. At times to me she was extremely selfish and clearly let her heart rule rather than her head. She knowingly got her self into a dangerous situation which would prove devastating if revealed. She had such a lovely, caring husband in Victor and she did not afford him the respect and support he needed. Deirdre was childish in ways and it took an awful lot of shocking events to make her see the light.
As for Jefe and Bonnie. Well Bonnie seemed like a lost soul when she reached Hispaniola and her infatuation didn't always allow her to see what was right in front of her eyes but when push came to shove she was there when needed and became a strong, powerful woman. Jefe was a law onto himself, a firebrand with revenge and justice in the uppermost of his thoughts although he allows love to sidetrack him. He wants action taken for all the misery the white slave owners have put his people through. This hatred and malice is dominate in the later half of the novel and it just builds and builds to an explosive, mind blowing conclusion that left me breathless.
Die hard fans of the historical fiction genre will soak up this incredible novel by such a wonderfully talented author, it's guaranteed to earn Sarah Lark a whole new legion of fans. The huge amount of research undertaken by the author has certainly paid off as I felt I was right there back over 250 years ago amidst the heat and hustle and bustle of life on the island. It was like I was an observer hidden among the mangrove forests and I was allowed an insight to life at what was an important period in history. The two sides of life were clearly shown in an unbiased way allowing the reader t form their own judgements. There was so much depth and detail here but it was never boring or unnecessary instead it enhanced all aspects of the novel and brought the characters and setting to life in a special and unique manner. This was no boring history lesson instead it proved to be an action packed, riveting read that I couldn't recommend enough. Anticipation is now high for the concluding book to the series. I'm intrigued to see how the author can top what have been for me two faultless, amazing novels. We are now nicely set up for the finale in what to me was a breathtaking masterpiece, one I won't forget in a hurry. I'm crossing my fingers I do not have long to wait and that Sarah Lark is busy writing as fast as she can for her eager fans.
Many thanks to Bastei Entertainment for my NetGalley copy of Island of the Mangroves to review and to Sharon for having my review on the blog.