The Pursuit of William Abbey

Orbit: Hachette. Nov. 2019. 464p. ISBN 9780316316842. pap. $16.99. FANTASY
North (The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August) here tells a story within a story, interweaving the tale of South African doctor William Abbey in the 1880s, who is cursed for not interceding when white townspeople kill an African boy, and the narrative of a World War I convalescent hospital. Abbey, now walking the earth as a truth speaker driven to proclaim what he sees in people’s hearts before fleeing the unstoppable, shadowy soul of the murdered boy, finds a conversational partner in one of the hospital’s nurses. The story intends to depict both the colonized, illustrating the brutal competition for resources and power, and the colonizers, whose descendants are haunted by the legacy of their ancestors. In early chapters, North uses intentionally disturbing language—commonly used by Victorian-era whites—and imagery to describe African characters and the things that happen to them. Such language seems to be employed here to drive home the atrocities of colonialism but may be upsetting for some readers.
VERDICT Recommended for fantasy fans with a penchant for darker story lines that investigate themes of colonialism and struggles for power. [See Prepub Alert, 5/5/19.]

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