Thoroughly Alive

We must hunger after the beautiful and the good...


Book Review: Fiddler's Green

Some of the best books in the world are about journeys. There's Tolkien's epic, of course, with the fellowship's quest to destroy the ring, and Frodo's particular sojourn into the dark land of Mordor. There's my favorite of the Narnia chronicles, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, with a dedicated crew in search of adventure, lost lords, and Aslan's far country. There's The Odyssey, with a warrior in desperate search of home, there's David Copperfield, which has always seemed to me to be the journey of a boy’s heart, and the old medieval tales of quests for the holy grail. I think the reason that journeying is so prevalent in story is because it is a basic truth of our situation on earth. The sense of being a pilgrim comes to us at birth and shapes the desires of our hearts. However lovely this world, however rich our friendships, we have an innate sense of displacement, a bone-deep knowledge that we are not yet home. There is still beauty, still love to be sought, but also a further hope we are bound to pursue, and we are restless until we do. When a story pictures—in bright-eyed characters, in daring deeds, in the outer picture of a physical quest—the inward journey we all take, it is a treasure and relief.

That is why I am delighted to tell you about a new book that has come to join the great ranks of journeying tales. Rife with adventure, rich with characters gaudy and gallant and dear, threaded with the gold of mercy and the black of sin, this is a book to steal the hours away and take you to a world of high seas adventure. Welcome to the world of The Fiddler’s Green, a brilliant new tale by A.S. Peterson.

The heroine is Fin Button, a red-haired, fire-hearted lass who finds herself captain of a ship during the American Revolution. The story rightfully begins in the prequel to this book, The Fiddler’s Gun, when Phinea Button, orphan, tomboy, and cook’s assistant, finds herself wanted for murder. Hunted by the British redcoats just as the Revolutionary War is gathering steam, Fin must strike her own way in a dangerous world. But even as loss and sorrow batter her heart, she is cradled by the fiddle music of an old violin. She learns to sing sorrow into beauty, as Bartimaeus, the old cook at the orphanage, teaches her.

Now, in Fiddler's Green, with many battles fought, one cruel captain defeated, and the loyalty of a crew under her belt, Fin is captain of a ship. But a price remains on her head. When she is offered a full pardon in return for her rescue of a kidnapped princess, what is she to do but take the challenge? Off she sails to the Mediterranean, in search of a French girl whose betrothed has offered a grand ransom. With Fin are her trusty crew, but also a few dark souls she’s not entirely sure she can trust. Her goal is to make it home in the end, pardoned and free, but can she?

Read the book and see. If you are like me, you will lose a whole morning to the reading without a blink. The writing is vivid; the scenes of ship or sea, and of the exotic cities found, are painted in strong swathes of description. The characters are subtly drawn with habits of speech and peculiarities of person and dress that bring them to life in the imagination. But the depths of the soul peek through too. Longing and loss, doubt of self, and the yearning for some love to heal all that is broken, these dapple and deepen the hearts and happenings of this tale.

And that is the deeper reason I love this book. While the outward journey provides all the rip-roaring fun that a good reader wants, it also speaks equally of the inward journey that every human takes. We sail with Fin into dark ports where she must face her own hurt, the wrong she has wrought, and the wounds she has received. We sail into ports of doubt, where Fin wonders if she can ever get home. Yet the journey continues, and with Fin, we push on. That is the gift this tale brings; the assurance that the journey we all live can bring us home, if we, like Fin, will choose the ways of mercy, of redemption, or grace, when we come to the crossroads of our hearts. Battles must be fought, beauties will be seen, and we must walk (or sail) onward to the grace that waits at the end. Or as Peterson puts it:

"…time has a way of leading a person along a crooked path. Sometimes the path is hard to hold to and people fall off along the way. They curse the road for its steep grades and muddy ruts and settle themselves in hinterlands of thorn and sorrow, never knowing or dreaming that the road meant all along to lead them home. Some call that road a tragedy and lose themselves along it. Others, those that see it home, call it an adventure."

So, go read this book. Go buy it at The Rabbit Room. Get the prequel and treat yourself to a weekend of reading. Let Fin be your guide, and a lively one she'll be.

(Caveat: To all my dear readers, be warned, this is a book of pirates and high seas adventures. It is not, thus, a children’s book any more than The Lord of the Rings is. Battles, wounds, gun fights, and the results of the above are included in the tale.  Some passages might not be for the squeamish.)