A sinking boat …
A girl in disguise …
A disappearing sea …
This is the phenomenal story of Fortune Sharpe, a young girl that lives in a hamlet inhabited by all females with the exception of her older brother who she dotes on. The pair are frequently being reprimanded as they play games like chase, and on one of those occasions happen upon a fallen tree which they agree would make a perfect boat and the pair set about carving and creating just that. It isn’t long before the boat is left to Fortune to finish as her brother Jem is required to take on a prominent position within the hamlet, and take on all the responsibility thats comes with the role leaving him preoccupied and busy. In a bid to have fun with her brother again Fortune finishes the boat and encourages Jem to try it out in the ocean with her.
The boat is a success for the most part, that is until they spy someone up on a hill observing them, and given that it is the sabbath day both Fortune and Jem knowing that something bad will come of it all confess all to their mother in a hope she will give them guidance. That night Fortune is awoken by her mother who requests that she dress in boy clothes before the pair set off in the dark for the servants market. It seems Fortune’s time at home has come to an abrupt end and she must leave to find work elsewhere under the guise of being a boy.
Fortune finds herself employed by Mr Spicer, owner of Barrow Hall. The man despises girls, is highly suspicious of witchcraft – something he believes in, and has an awful associate by the name of Dr Blood. This business partner seems to always be lingering, constantly advising, and always watching what others are doing and from the offset Molly dislikes him. Disguised as a boy Molly begins work as personal servant to Mr Spicer’s son Ellis who soon discovers her secret along with his sister Susannah. The trio offer each other much welcome support and encouragement and are fantastic examples of a positive friendship, confiding in one another where necessary – Ellis for example tells Molly he will runaway if things don’t change at home.
When a Tsunami hits no one knows what it is, or what has caused it. The devastation it causes goes on for miles and is catastrophic. There are many deaths, losses of homes, crops and property that affect a vast amount of people, and with Mr Spicer among the dead it seems Dr Blood is intent on regaining control of the business plans and is intent on a witch trial. Molly worries that he is focused on Susannah and does all she can to help her, offering to take her back home to her family and seek sanctuary there. It seems the danger is closer to home – especially as Molly is known to be different by many and looked to have prior knowledge of the disaster by building a boat, but there is more to Molly than meets the eye, and her bond with her brother is one that cannot be broken with him coming to her rescue too.
Readers get to witness the dramatics of a witch trial, the accusations being thrown around and the consequences that has on not only the accused but those around them too. It is evident that not knowing the cause of this disaster has left the people of Somerset fearful, and consequently willing to accept any explanation put their way – in this case witchcraft. It is interesting to see the mindset of that particular time in history and understand why the suggested cause would be found ludicrous in the present day and yet made sense to those people there at the time.
This is both an intense and compelling read, one that takes the reader on the most incredible journey through history and immerses them in the midst of tense times, the accusation of being a witch feared by all. This tense atmosphere within the community Molly lives in as well as the country as a whole is evident from the offset and depicted brilliantly, especially with accused in jail being a part of Molly’s journey. The story has you gripped from the very moment you are introduced to Molly, and you find yourself willing her on, and hoping nothing bad will happen to her.
The Somerset Tsunami was published on 3rd October 2019 by Faber & Faber.