RACING TIDES by Martin Kevan


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The 1604-1607 diaries of French/Scottish youth Sodric du Gaelle, who sails to the New World and becomes part of an ill-fated Canadian colony there: a modestly authentic but stodgily undramatic mock-up. The first chapters are relatively lively, as young Sodric joins up with the expedition headed by M. de Monts, who has been granted a trading monopoly on the Acadian coast: Sodric, eager to escape gambling debts and hoping to improve his station, pretends to be a seminarian--which earns him a place on board as Father Jacques' assistant. (The expedition is also supposed to bring Catholicism to the ""savages."") The voyage, however, is dominated by Catholic-vs. Huguenot quarrels of limited appeal. And once the men arrive and begin their settlements (in what is now Maine and Nova Scotia), the narrative becomes an episodic matter of ordeals (cold, pestilence), interchanges with the Indians, attempts to sail south to Florida, minor intra-colony squabbles, and futile efforts to prevent war between enemy Indian tribes. As for Sodric, his false pretenses are soon exposed--after which, not very convincingly, he finds real faith in studies with soon-dead Father Jacques, though he is intrigued by the Indians' rituals (he goes on a hunt). . . and can never quite cure himself of the urge to self-flagellation. (He's forever being discovered whipping and pinching himself.) Towards the end, first-novelist Kevan attempts to juice things up with a letter from Europe which hints at a secret in Sodric's past (his mother, a supporter of Mary, Queen of Scots, has been imprisoned)--and at the close Sodric heads home, possibly for some spy/intrigue, when M. de Monts loses his royal license. But, if further adventures are planned for Sodric, they'd better be more shapely and sprightly than this one--which is far stronger on Indian lore, colonial geography, and comparative theology than it is on style, plot, or character.

Pub Date: March 14th, 1983
Publisher: Beaufort