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Book: No Gentle Bondage by Joy V. Sheridan

Book Review: No Gentle Bondage by Joy V. Sheridan

categories: Book, Historical Romance, 18th Century, Jamaica, Interracial Romance

Author: Joy V. Sheridan

 A Novel of 18th Century Jamaica

David Russell

a review by David Russell

This is a powerful Interracial Romance, set in 18th Century Jamaica. Plantations, buried treasure, piracy and attempted vendettas lurk in the background; also initiation into Obeah. Some reference to runaway slaves wreaking vengeance on soldiers; black desires white, white desires black. In this Caribbean melting pot, there is En Jon Dow, a half-caste, with possibly Indian mother and Caucasian father, who is often taken for an oriental, but in terms of his demeanour is in most respects a cultured European, his father having provided him with an Oxford-educated tutor. There is one slave women, Eboinée, who had been something of an aristocrat before her abduction from Africa, and retains some of her lofty attitudes. She loses a child who had been with her on her transportation voyage, and after her 'resettlement' is double-named Jezebel; she becomes a threat to the status quo, partly because of her magical powers. The array of strong characters includes the black slave Abu/Eli, who sustains a remarkable level of moral integrity in view of his (lack of) status, combined with his exceptional looks – he is forced to pose as a life-drawing model. Lovely bathing scene leading to a failed seduction! A fascination also develops between Eboinée and Abu.

Captain Kate Goshawke, who radiates fascination, is the 'macho woman' heroine. Widowed when very young, she had been left to fend for, and prove, herself in the hard world of mariners. Because of her sometimes wearing man's attire, there is some speculation about her real gender, and she attracts obsession from both sexes. En Jon, a successful philanderer, meets his match in Kate. They play elaborate, flirtatious mind-games together.

Another forceful character is Mara, daughter of ageing plantation owner Bartholomew Sadler, who has a bitter rival in the form of fellow plantation owner Esmé Durrance. Esmé has quite a close attachment to En Jon Dow on account of a shared love of literature. In parallel with Ebionée, Esmé has lost a child, and is also credited with magical powers.

In the novel here is no explicit sex, which for the reader, heightens the intensity of the desire, and the impassioned approaches which go with it. These make an important counterpoint with the politics of half-arranged marriage, integral to the novel's structure. The love interest is counterpointed with the proprietorial and matrimonial designs of other plantation owners. There is also an adulterous relationship and concern about illegitimate pregnancy. In the case of Mara Sadler, there is a clear conflict between her inner desires and the matrimonial role expected of her. There is some conflict between Abu and Eboinée; Abu thinks she was responsible for the death of his wife. Bartholomew Sadler takes a shine to Eboinée.

Later, Bartholomew Sadler collapses and dies. This may have been the work of Eboinée's spirits. The decease will suit daughter Mara's plans to take over the property, so Eboinée bargains with Mara to obtain her freedom. Mara then plots Eboinée's assassination, at the hands of Abu/Eli. Eboinée gets wind of the scheme, and tries to cultivate En Jon Dow to help thwart Mara. The assassination is faked, with Eboinées's ingenuity in engineering a 'decoy' of bogus bloodstained remains; Eboinée escapes. Eboinée approaches Esmé Durrance, with the bait of being able to lead to buried treasure.

For Tsunami-aware readers, there is a superb description of a tropical storm towards the end. There is speculation about whether Eboinée's magic brought about the storm. Love is unrequited for En Jon and Kate, but there is a suggestion that it may prevail with Mara and Abu/Eli.

I think Shiva Naipaul would have approved of this story.

David Russell

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