Review: Across the Sea by Wayne Mansfield

Twenty-two-year-old Jacob Tomkins is sentenced to seven years’ labour in the fledgling colony of Sydney Town, Australia. The voyage across the sea is arduous. He is travelling with mean, street-hardened criminals, some of whom would like to use him for their pleasure.

Fortunately he meets Peter, who takes Jacob under his wing. Together they find moments of pleasure amid the drudgery of the voyage. They share their hopes and dreams, and finally declare their love for each other upon the eve of their arrival in Sydney Town -- a place where the currency is rum, distilled and controlled by the powerful military.

But what will happen once they disembark? The chances of remaining together are slim. A lot can happen in seven years, especially when Jacob’s new master takes a liking to him. Is their love strong enough to survive the ravages of time? Can they survive the rigors of their imprisonment?

This story whisks the reader away to a time when crime did not seem to fit the harsh punishment meted out.

Jacob finding himself in dire straits stole some apples to feed his family, was caught tried and sent on a convict ship to serve seven years of indenture during the time of early colonisation of Australia.

Sailing from England to Australia he meets fellow convict Peter who helps make the journey more bearable and a close bond is formed that sustains their months at sea. Peter although much older, becomes Jacob's lover.

Across the Sea is told in three parts, the journey to Australia, life as an indentured servant at Jasper Livingstone's farmstead and decisions made once freedom is attained. All in all it is quite a charming love story set in fairly brutal times.

Despite Jacob finding quite a cushy job with his master Jasper, he still holds a torch for fellow criminal Peter unsure about whether they will even see one and other again but hoping that they might. I am still not quite sure what to make of Jacob's master Jasper. At one stage I thought the story might get much darker than it actually did.

What I like particularly about Across the Sea is the descriptions of day to day life on the ship and later on land. Jacob Is an affable protagonist. I just wasn't really sold on the relationship building along the way. I wasn't able to grasp the reason for Jacob's attraction to Peter, I didn't really feel the chemistry between them (and I was even more sceptical about the next relationship explored in the story).

The concept and historical setting intriguing and the exchanges between Jacob and the other characters interesting. I think I would have liked to see his life as a free man a bit more to balance the story. I guess I was hoping for derring do which never really happens. Instead this is an evocative read about extraordinary things that happen to ordinary people.

An enjoyable story that keeps you guessing right to the end and explores the unpredictability of life. Recommended for those who crave historical romance and heroes that have to work hard for their happy ending.

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