Thursday, 30 April 2020

On Wilder Seas: The Woman on the Golden Hind by Nikki Marmery

On Wilder Seas: The Woman on the Golden Hind by Nikki Marmery
Published by Legend Press on the 16th March 2020.

How I got this book:
Received a review copy from the publisher via NetGalley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

April 1579: When two ships meet off the Pacific coast of New Spain, an enslaved woman seizes the chance to escape.

But Maria has unwittingly joined Francis Drake’s circumnavigation voyage as he sets sail on a secret detour into the far north.

Sailing into the unknown on the Golden Hind, a lone woman among eighty men, Maria will be tested to the very limits of her endurance. It will take all her wits to survive – and courage to cut the ties that bind her to Drake to pursue her own journey.

How far will Maria go to be truly free?

Inspired by a true story, this is the tale of one woman’s uncharted voyage to freedom.

I visited a replica of Drake's Golden Hind galleon in Brixham and was amazed at how small this famous vessel actually was. I wouldn't want to cross the Channel in it let alone circumnavigate the globe, yet Drake did just that and even managed to bring some of his crew back home alive. I don't remember ever seeing mention of a woman on board though. I had always been told that everybody was male, but now I discover that historical records do actually place 'Maria' in the crew for nine months of the voyage. Overlooked and ignored for over 440 years, Nikki Marmery has now imagined what Maria's life and nautical experience could have been in this vivid retelling of the Golden Hind's circumnavigation, narrated from Maria's perspective.

I love speculative fiction especially when it is solidly rooted in fact as is On Wilder Seas. Marmery describes the fantastic sights, scents and sounds that the English sailors discovered, and the various peoples they encountered in Africa and the Americas. I felt as though I was travelling with them as an Elizabethan explorer myself. I also learned on the hardships and claustrophobia of life on board the Golden Hind including the strict demarcation of privileges and the precarious existence of a sailor's life. What shocked me the most though was how the men could so easily commit horrific violence on pretty much a daily basis, yet still seem to fervently believe that they were true Christians doing God's work. Rape, robbery, enslavement and murder aren't sins? Seen through Maria's testimony - the unusual perspective of a woman's viewpoint - the vicious hypocrisy of this masculine world is breathtaking!

I really liked Maria. She is a nobody in this world, an escaped black slave with a stolen jewel, but she has such a strong determination to survive and, as far as is possible, to live on her own terms. She isn't always nice or kind, but she's wonderfully strong and always alert to opportunities. I know, from reading about On Wilder Seas, that pretty much all the evidence Marmery had for this character was the Christian name the English used for her, but throughout the story I felt she fitted perfectly. I frequently had to remind myself that this is actually historical fiction, but the novel has such a convincing ring of truth to it. The real Maria probably didn't live this exact life but I am sure dozens of now-forgotten Marias would recognise moments of their lives in her story.

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