Thursday 29 January 2015

The Story of Land and Sea by Katy Simpson Smith

August, 1793. On the hot, humid coast of North Carolina nine-year-old Tabitha fills her pockets with fish bones and shells, to bring the ocean back to her room. The act, perhaps, of a child conceived at sea.
At night young Tab sits with her father by the shore to hear stories of her mother Helen, the pull of the ocean born into them both. John longs to sail the sea as he did before the war, but knows he must stay on steady land for his daughter. But when Tab catches yellow fever John turns to what he knows, and steals her onto a boat bound for Bermuda in the hope the sea air will cure, as Tab’s precious life hangs in the balance.
The same coast twenty years earlier, and Helen is given a slave girl for her tenth birthday. Moll’s arrival is intended to teach Helen discipline but soon the girls are confidantes, an unlikely alliance. It’s an enduring friendship until the arrival of John, a pirate turned soldier. And as the town is threatened in the dying embers of the Revolution, Helen must decide between a life of security on the family plantation and a sea adventure with the man she loves.

The Story of Land and Sea by Katy Simpson Smith is published today (29 January 2015), by Borough Press (Harper Collins).

I hold my hands up and start by stating that historical fiction is not my favourite genre, but every now and again I'm attracted by a particular story, and The Story of Land and Sea's blurb really did appeal to me. Also, being something of a 'book magpie', that magnificent cover really did add to my interest, just take a look at it - isn't it just fabulous?

The story takes place in North Carolina during the Revolution and the reader is quickly enveloped into the lives of ordinary people that inhabit the place and time.  The author tells her story in three parts, starting with Tabitha, her father John and her grandfather Asa.  Tabitha's mother Helen died in childbirth, and their whole lives are consumed by memories of her. John's decision to take Tabitha out to sea in the hope that this will cure her yellow fever leads to events that are tragic and quite overwhelming.

The reader is then taken back to the time when Helen and John meet, and explores their relationship and the effect it has on Helen's father, and how they come to live on the sea. We are also introduced to Moll, the slave-girl given to Helen as a birthday present. The relationship that develops between Helen and Moll is wonderfully portrayed and presents Helen with some life-defining decisions.

The final part of the story takes up where the first part ended, with John and Asa still battling to cope with their losses, their disagreements and their life. We also see how Moll has grown in character and depth, dealing with life as a slave, yet desperate to find freedom for herself and her family.

The Story of Land and Sea is beautifully written, with characters who are colourful and so well crafted. Don't expect a fast-mover, or pages of excitement, but do be prepared for a gentle, yet insightful story that explores relationships and losses.

My thanks to Cassie from Borough Press who sent my copy for review.

At just 28, Katy Simpson Smith is an incredible talent whose writing is mature, composed and compelling.
She attended Mount Holyoke College and received a PhD in history from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and an MFA from the Bennington Writing Seminars.
She has been working as an adjunct professor at Tulane University and has published a study of early-American motherhood, We Have Raised All of You: Motherhood in the South, 1750-1835.

For more information about Katy Simpson Smith, please take a look at her website

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