#1 Edge of Empire series
Cardinal Points is the first story in Dory Codington’s ‘Edge of Empire’ series. The novel relates the story, love affair and eventual marriage of two young people caught up in the American revolution. Set at the time of what many know of as the ‘Boston Tea Party’, Codington creates a vivid and credible representation of what life may have been like in an 18th century British colony.
The book starts with a few pages of historical background, which is not the most gripping opening for a work of fiction but does serve to explain the socio-political background to the events about to unfold. The two protagonists are Jason Fitzsimmon, a younger son of an aristocratic British family, and Oona, an indentured servant who believes herself to be of humble Irish origin. Their story runs along a fairly traditional romance trajectory: girl meets boy, they separate then find each other, there are doubts, disasters and tensions, and finally a happy ending. Along the way, the reader may enjoy, or not, Oona’s sexual awakening. This book contains some explicit sex scenes, which are somewhat at odds with the author’s more didactic story-telling style. The title relates to navigational instruments, which the author also tells us about. Perhaps there was a little too much ‘historical telling’ from an academic view rather than that of fictional narrative?
Dory Codington knows a great deal about her epoch and setting, and in some scenes her writing transports the reader there – to narrow, muddy lanes, chilling gloom and a sense of impending, unavoidable conflict. In this respect her novel is a good read: I learned a lot about Boston, taxation and the colonial politics of the 1770s. What was less enjoyable for me was the way she uses the same narrative style for her lovers’ inner thoughts, and brushes past opportunities to develop characters and situations through dialogue.
On a personal level, I had a little trouble accepting the name Jason for an Englishman of the period. I may be wrong here, but something more Anglo-Saxon or Norman French would have sounded better. Nonetheless, Jason is everything a young hero should be, brave, good-looking, loyal and romantic.
The portrayal of Oona is tender, but somewhat confusing. Oona is a live-in domestic servant to a Puritan family, who have promised to educate her and protect her virtue. That being the case, I was not convinced that she should be working in a harbourside tavern each evening – hardly a place for a respectable girl, servant or otherwise. Of course, both the name Jason, and Oona’s employment as a servant and a tavern maid may have happened, truth can be stranger than fiction, but the constant reiteration of Oona’s modesty and her anxiety to keep her good name ran counter to her circumstances.
The plot moves along at a good pace, there are moments of tension and some more visual, dramatic scenes. I would have liked to know more about Oona’s life with the Puritan family, especially the wife, who is supposedly trying to protect her in a maternal role but gives her a life-threatening thrashing for taking up with a young man. Despite the various contradictory elements, this is an interesting background to the so-called 'Boston tea party' affair, and recommended to readers who like their history with a sexy bit of entertainment on the side.
© J.G. Harlond
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