Monday, November 11, 2013

A Few Thoughts On A Rough Passage to London by Robin Lloyd


Lyme, Connecticut, early nineteenth century. Elisha Ely Morgan is a young farm boy who has witnessed firsthand the terror of the War of 1812. Troubled by a tumultuous home life ruled by the fists of their tempestuous father, Ely's two older brothers have both left their pastoral boyhoods to seek manhood through sailing. One afternoon, the Morgan family receives a letter with the news that one brother is lost at sea; the other is believed to be dead. Scrimping as much savings as a farm boy can muster, Ely spends nearly every penny he has to become a sailor on a square-rigged ship, on a route from New York to London—a route he hopes will lead to his vanished brother, Abraham.

Learning the brutal trade of a sailor, Ely takes quickly to sea-life, but his focus lies with finding Abraham. Following a series of cryptic clues regarding his brother's fate, Ely becomes entrenched in a mystery deeper than he can imagine. As he feels himself drawing closer to an answer, Ely climbs the ranks to become a captain, experiences romance, faces a mutiny, meets Queen Victoria, and befriends historical legends such as Charles Dickens in his raucous quest.

Sheridan House | October 7, 2013 | 376 pages

My Thoughts
  • A Rough Passage to London is based on the life of 19th century American sea captain Elisha Ely Morgan.  Ely first goes to sea in the hopes of locating his missing brother, but he takes to sea life almost immediately and manages to work his way up from ordinary sailor to captain and ship owner.  Through it all, however, Ely never stops seeking information on his lost brother, which ends up putting him in the direct path of some very dangerous men.  
  • Ely Morgan led an interesting life.  Not only was he named ship's captain at a young age, he travelled a route (New York to London) that enabled him to become friendly with writers and artists such as Charles Dickens, and to meet English royalty.  Robin Lloyd is an ancestor of Ely Morgan's and he fashioned this story, in part, from the various tales of Morgan he was told while growing up, as well as from primary sources such as letters written by Morgan himself.
  • It is obvious that Robin Lloyd undertook a significant amount of research to write this novel.  This is especially evident when it comes to the operations of a packet ship, which are described in significant detail.  One of the most interesting aspects of this novel is that much of it takes place during the transition from the Age of Sail to the Age of Steam.  I've always been drawn to novels set during the Age of Sail, and I found the evolution from sail to steam that is portrayed in this novel to be educational.    
  • In the first half of the novel I found the events of Ely's life were passed over too quickly, with situations only cursorily described before Lloyd moves on to the next one.  By the half-way point, however, this began to change.  As a result, I found the last half of the novel significantly more engaging than the first and that it moved at a much faster pace.  I would have preferred for less focus to have been placed on Ely's attempts to locate his brother, or at least for this aspect of the narrative to have been resolved earlier, as my favourite parts of the book were those that dealt with life on board a ship and the politics while on land. 
  • Robin Lloyd does a good job with developed Ely Morgan's character over the course of the novel, showing how Ely matures from a green hand to a confident captain.  While the focus of the book is on Ely, Lloyd generally does a good job with the secondary characters. The brief appearances or cameos made by historical figures are memorable.  I especially liked the few pages that featured Queen Victoria's tour of one of Morgan's ships. 
  • Fans of novels set during the Age of Sail will likely find A Rough Passage to London an engaging read.  

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Stars
Source: I received a copy of this novel from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review. 

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