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The Convicts

by Iain Lawrence

The threatening prison ship on the cover of Gulf Islands author Iain Lawrence’s new novel sets the tone for this Dickensian tale of revenge, betrayal, and transportation.

After Lord of the Nutcracker Men and Ghost Boy, the new book is a return to the 19th-century maritime setting Lawrence explored so successfully in his High Seas trilogy. Set in 1828, The Convicts follows the trials of Tom Tin as he is wrongfully convicted of murder and sent to a rotting hulk in the Thames River before being transported to Van Diemens Land.

The dark underbelly of late Georgian London is wonderfully captured in Lawrence’s vivid prose. The fog at Tom’s sister’s funeral is “thick and putrid, like a vile custard poured among the tombstones.” There are also many gruesome details that will appeal to young adult readers, such as the boy who picks lice from his hair and crushes them between his teeth.

The tale moves along at a crackling pace, rarely giving the reader a chance to draw breath. Sometimes it’s too much. In the first 40 pages, Tom’s sister dies, his mother goes insane, and Tom swears revenge on the man who ruined his sea-captain father, he meets a mysterious blind man, finds and loses a huge diamond, is picked up by a body snatcher, finds the corpse of a boy who’s his double, and is taken in by street urchins who think he’s the dead boy’s ghost! After this, the story calms down and there is some room for the characters to develop, although coincidental meetings continue to stretch credulity.

The Convicts is well researched and splendidly recreates the story’s time and place. Despite the unlikely sequence of events, it will appeal to Lawrence fans and any young adult who enjoys thrilling historical fiction. The fact that Tom Tin’s need for revenge isn’t resolved at the end suggests that this is not the last we will hear of him.