Sugar Money by Jane Harris review – slavery obscured by a rollicking adventure

Based on a true story, this tale of slaves smuggling slaves in the 18th-century Caribbean brings too light a tone to a brutal subject

Jane Harris’s first two historical novels showcased the voices of unsung, socially disadvantaged characters: a young Irish immigrant in The Observations, an elderly Victorian spinster in Gillespie and I. Harris is an empathetic and intelligent writer, with an instinct for the delicate alchemy that produces page-turners. 

In her third novel, based on a true story, Harris takes us to 1765 and the voice of Lucien, a “mulatto” slave who is “thirteen or fourteen or thereabouts”, and has been brought over to Martinique from his native Grenada. Lucien works tending livestock on a plantation run by French friars. His only family is older brother Emile, who works “a long day hike away”.

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