Sophie Masson is a French-Australian writer, whose website records a maelstrom of literary and cultural interests and influences, several of which are evident in this novel. It’s a ‘Tempestuous’ tale indeed, for the isle which is Hopewell’s destination must surely lie in the same archipelago as the setting his distant relative conjured up for his last play.
You have a strong sense that the author is certainly enjoying her own enthusiasms. Since young Hopewell is a frequent groundling at the Globe, his thoughts and even his actions are shaped by Romeo and Juliet or A Midsummer Night’s Dream, while his creator dips frequently into Twelfth Night as well as The Tempest. We briefly meet a bunch of gallowglasses and Hopewell is urged to screw his courage to the sticking point or (more than once) to ‘suit the action to the thought’, if not the word. The repetitions can become intrusive. ‘Smarmy’ three times in three pages seems not only excessive but also grating for a narrator who sets her tale in Elizabeth’s reign; as do phrases like ‘giving them a hurry-up’, alongside characters prone to utter the odd ‘Forsooth’.
Masson gladly acknowledges in her Author’s Note further debts to Arthurian Legend, The Odyssey and ‘a little bit of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island (the first mate has a strong whiff of Long John Silver about him and our hero thinks he has overheard treachery plotted on a moonless deck much like Jim crouching in the apple barrel). You could probably add ‘The Ancient Mariner’, The Pardoner’s Tale, and maybe J M Barrie’s Captain Hook to the mix which, as Ms Masson might say, is a bit of a gallimaufry.
Yet it works for most of the time in a tale of rough magic such as this, slipping from the Globe to the Island and on to Venice and back again so quickly that it takes a tenacious reader to keep track of the plot. Hopewell’s chief quality, exploited by the villain of the piece, is his cheery innocence. Dr Prosper Bonaventure, Captain Wolfe, Kit Sly, Davy Jones, the Lady Flora – to say nothing of her goat Caprice – are all several steps ahead of him. So his innocence is a good standpoint for the reader since we see and experience events through Hopewell’s constantly surprised eyes. Probably, the best mode of reading is essentially childlike: step aboard, don’t ask too many questions, miss the welter of literary borrowings, and embark on a magical mystery voyage.