A masterful, thoroughly engrossing tale from acclaimed historical novelist Unsworth (Pascali's Island, 1980; Stone Virgin, 1986)--about the British slave trade in the mid-18th century and a shipboard mutiny from which arose a community based on racial equality. Through the perspectives of Erasmus Kemp, son of the shipowner and an obsessive, insensitive youth; and Matthew Paris--his cousin, a doctor (and ship's physician) recently imprisoned for publishing his seditious views in favor of evolution--Unsworth contrasts imagery of a genteel life in England with an increasingly brutal, barbaric existence under the command of the maniacal Captain Thurso. As slaves are collected from traders along the African coast, the fortunes of the owner decline precipitously, with his suicide and the ruin of Erasmus's fanciful plans of empire-building and grandeur through a good marriage the result. Becalmed, the ship's human cargo begins to sicken and die, and an increasingly vexed Thurso opts to alleviate matters by throwing ailing slaves overboard--an act spurring Paris and the crew to kill him. After landing on the remote coast of Florida, ex-slaves and sailors live in freedom for 12 years--inspired by the utopian ideals of an itinerant artist picked up in Africa--until they are captured by soldiers under Erasmus, who, consumed by the same sacred hunger for wealth that made chattel of human beings, has spared no effort to hunt down the cousin whom he blames for the loss of his dream. Intense in its elaboration of two vastly different visions of destiny and cause-and-effect, more steeped in history than Charles Johnson's Middle Passage: a riveting, outstanding addition to an already impressive oeuvre.