Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Review: Savage Lands by Clare Clark

Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Harvill Secker, 2010

It is 1704 and, in the swamps of Louisiana, France is clinging to its new colony with less than two hundred men. Elisabeth Savaret is a 'casket girl', one of twenty three young women sent from Paris to marry men who are complete strangers. With little expectation of happiness Elisabeth is lucky and falls passionately in love with her husband, the ambitious infantryman, Jean-Claude Babelon.

 Auguste is a young ship's boy who is left to grow up in a Native American village , learning their ways and language so as to act as a go-between, and he becomes close to Jean-Claude who visits frequently on trading missions.

When both Elisabeth and Auguste find their love challenged by Jean-Claude's duplicity, the consequences are devastating.

Clare Clark's descriptive prose is lush and rich in detail; the physical landscape and the harsh realities of everyday survival for the colonists is brought vividly to life.
" .........the spiders, and the alligators and the snakes and the tormenting mosquitoes, the coarse oily slabs that passed for bread and milk that cost fifty sols a jug,..........the rough men and the whores and the half-naked savages and the soldiers so drunk that they fell against you in the street, the boils and the sores that would not heal, the cabin with its straw mattress that would hardly have sufficed for a shepherd, the sun that beat down so powerfully at midday that it could strike a man dead, the savages with their tattoos and their devilish magic and their taste for human flesh."

It's an historical background full of imagery but at times it becomes too much and I only wish as much attention had been given to the development of the characters . I never felt emotionally invested in any of them which considering the dark themes of obsessive love and betrayal throughout the book is surprising. I wanted insight into Elisabeth and to understand why she made some of the choices she did but it never happened.

I enjoyed this book for the history but I wouldn't recommend it to anyone who likes a well constructed story line , well developed characters and informative dialogue.

Royal Reviews Historical Fiction Challenge
Year of The Historical Challenge


  1. I am torn, I would love it cos of the story, but then cos of that you mention at the end...well torn

  2. I think that's how I felt - torn. Still worth a read though.

  3. I was really excited when I started reading your review, as I've never read anything about the colonization of Louisiana. However I think the flaws in plot and character development would ruin it for me. Thanks for the honest and balanced review.