This is the story of Hero Athena Hollis, an extremely independent woman of the 19th century, vehemently opposed to slavery and all of society’s injustices and determined to use her wealth to stamp them out. After Hero’s father dies, she is invited to join her family in Zanzibar where her uncle is serving as the American Counsel. Hero’s family always expected that she would marry her aunt’s son by a first marriage, even though she is not sure she’s in love with him.
While on voyage to Zanzibar during a huge storm, Hero is washed off the boat deck and presumed dead. However, another ship captained by the infamous slave trader Rory Frost pulls up their rigging out of the sea and finds a half drowned, bruised and battered Hero. Since Hero is such a bruised mess from her ordeal, Rory has no idea what a beauty she is until sometime after she has been returned to her family. To say more of the story than this would be revealing the entire plot, which I don’t like to do.
M.M. Kaye’s knowledge of the Far East shines through, as it does in all her books. She stays as historically accurate as she can, and pulls no punches when describing the customs of the Island, the slave trade, the cholera epidemic and more. And once again, Kaye is able through her books to remind us that the west and east are two different and completely disparate cultures and will never see eye to eye. One other lesson brought to home in this story is when Hero’s eyes are opened to the fact that for all her good intentions, going barging in to another culture you know nothing about and trying to change them “for the better” to the more “civilized culture” is inherently wrong, and one should look to correct what is one own’s back yard first before trying to change the world.
This was a wonderful tale and I had a hard time putting it down. Out of print, but readily available at my county library. 5/5
Note: there is a scene towards the end that is a bit controversial for the more politically correct. If that’s an issue and you want to be spoiled see the Amazon reviews. Frankly, I thought Kaye handled the reasons behind it quite well, and most of it was left to one’s imagination.