The latest novel by Mack Little – shortlisted for the Hawthorne Prize 2022
There’s a time, a place and a girl: May 19th, 1649, St Dismas Plantation, Barbados. Geraldine Dinny, a very young slave has to defend herself from her master’s advances, she runs away and now she fears for the worst.
Getting away from her master’s – hence her own – house, she faces a fork in the road: one leads to ma and pa and the comfort of her family, the other to a ship ready to set sail. She opts for the ship. Suddenly, while she is fleeing, a pair of hands grab her in the dark. Her fears are soon dissipated when she hears her twin brother Jimmie’s voice, commanding the stranger to release her and introduces him as Leixiang, Lei, a friend who will help them.
Cockpits, Jamaica, same day.
Ami – Dinny and Jimmie’s cousin – lies awake in her bed, incapable of falling asleep. She can feel change coming soon. She knows Dinny is on her way there, her brother and grandfather are on the way to the port to pick her up. She is not worried about her cousin, though, there is something else nagging her. She finally falls asleep and she sees the ghost of a white woman standing in the doorframe of her room.
‘Beyond the stony shores and the roiling seas lies his destiny. His providence is greatness. Despair will be his destruction and the death of his soul’. This is what the woman says to her.
She is talking about a boy that Ami sees in this dream that is not really a dream. It’s a domestic scene: the woman is pottering around in her kitchen, a man and two boys sit around the table, eating. The person the woman is referring to is Pascal, Pax, her son. The man, Jean-Pierre, is the lady’s husband, and him, Pax and Ivan, Pax’s brother, are having a theological discussion, when they hear a loud bang on the door. On the other side there are two soldiers, and Jean-Pierre asks Ivan to take his brother and mother to Father Dominique. But his wife stays behind. Jean-Pierre is the brother of the Duke Renault Durfort, a member of the king’s council. He too could have status and prestige, if it wasn’t for his heretic religious views. The two soldiers are there to ruffle his feathers, but Jean-Pierre knows better and does not engage. When one of the two asks what they are having for dinner and he’s presented with a simple stew, he demands to have some meat in it, and Jean-Pierre obliges. While Jean-Pierre is out to buy meat as requested, one of the soldiers slaps Marie-Claire so hard that she falls, hits her head and dies. At this point Ami wakes up screaming.
Meanwhile, in France, Ivan and Pax go back home to find their mother dead. Pax grabs a butcher’s knife and kills one of the soldiers. Ivan grabs his brother and they flee. They go to Philippe, Ivan’s friend, to figure out a plan to leave all together.
It turns out that Ivan and Philippe are lovers, so for them running away was already an option. Unfortunately, they are robbed but they manage to escape. On the run and with no money, their only choice is to sign a contract with a brokerage agent. In the office, beside the agent there is also a blond, fascinating man that catches Ivan’s eye and Philippe notices it. When they are back to their room they have an argument that is soothed by a roll in bed and it all seems sorted when someone knocks on the door. It’s the man from earlier. His name is Captain Ford and he bought their contact. They board on a ship that sails towards the Caribbean, finally safe, but not long after their departure Philippe falls from the riggers he was tending and dies instantly. It’s a shock for Ivan who’s not sure if it was an accident, if Captain Ford is involved or if Philippe jumped.
The two ships eventually cross each other’s path, and so do their crews, in a whirl of revelations, deaths, prisoners, chases and separations that will not end until the very last page.
‘Daughter of Hades’ tells the fascinating and often painful history of the Caribbeans through the life experience of characters that might have actually lived it. It’s not at all difficult to imagine a time when young people were forced to work as slaves and tried to escape in search of a better life. Too often, though, we tend to forget about it, and that’s why this story is still relevant today.
But ‘Daughter of Hades’ is much more than a lesson in Caribbean history and the impact slavery has on its characters. At its core, it is a fight for survival and revenge captured in its purest state, and a historical romance showing that people can find love even in the strangest of places, or the strangest of situations. There are times when the story gets lots because of the too many characters, but it’s a brilliant read that flows easily nonetheless, full of plot twists, some happy, some not so much, imaginative characters and historical accuracy. A great read if you are a fan of historical fiction.
Daughter of Hades is available for purchase on Amazon: https://amzn.to/41aD8RF