A Fisher of Slaves
Dick Parsons
AuthorHouse, 322 pages, (paperback) $ 19.76, 9781504989985
(Reviewed: December, 2015)

In this historical novel, Dick Parsons takes readers on a revealing and disturbing journey aboard a slave ship. Seen through the eyes of young apprentice seaman Nathaniel, his mother Elizabeth—an ardent abolitionist—and the slaver’s Captain James Youle, the story believably portrays in brutal detail a woeful era in American history.

At the outset, Nathaniel wants to follow his late father in a naval career, but Elizabeth resists because her husband was killed in a naval battle. Captain Youle eventually persuades her that he’ll take good care of  the boy, and soon he’s underway from the English port of Bristol on a journey that would take the Mary Ann to the African Slave Coast, the New World and back to Bristol.

A retired British commanding naval officer, Parsons describes—with the near-deftness of Patrick O’Brian in his Aubrey–Maturin nautical novels—the travails of sailing a ship across the Atlantic with some eight score, miserable slaves crammed into its filthy, putrid hold. Overlaying the nautical tale is Elizabeth’s determined efforts to do what’s possible to fight this abomination, despite the personal anguish she feels because her own son is a participant in that industry — and despite her ironic, growing affection for the slaver’s captain.

The switching viewpoints between the three main protagonists take some acclimation. And the book opens with what feels like a contrivance: How, readers will wonder, can a dedicated abolitionist allow her 13-year-old son to apprentice aboard a slave ship without asking what cargo the Mary Ann will carry?

But these are minor flaws. Parson’s characters are nuanced and credible, unlike the cutouts found in historical novels that focus more on the action than the players. The author has a keen ear for dialect, but doesn’t overdo it so that it becomes distracting, and the writing is crisp and readable, moving at a steady pace. Once past the initial hurdle, it’s smooth sailing for anyone who appreciates a good yarn.

Also available in hardcover.



A Fisher of Slaves
Dick Parsons
AuthorHouseUK (Oct 26, 2015)
Softcover $19.76 (336pp)
With its intelligent prose, A Fisher of Slaves will not disappoint historical fiction fans who gravitate to Hornblower-style storytelling with a touch of Georgian-era romance.

In his deftly researched and well-imagined A Fisher of Slaves, Dick Parsons sets sail on a tale that combines elements of Treasure Island with muckraking and includes a chaste but passionate romance.

In the early 1770s, thirteen-year-old Nathaniel has finally persuaded his mother, Elizabeth, to allow him to sign up as an apprentice mate on a ship. Elizabeth seeks out James Youle, captain of the Dolphin, whose stellar reputation is reassuring. However, she learns too late that the pragmatic Youle has taken captaincy of the Mary Anne, a slave ship. Elizabeth, a passionate abolitionist, has committed her son to the slave trade.

This engrossing tale splits into two plot threads as the Mary Anne and Youle embark for Africa. Nathaniel learns about canvas, ropes, navigation, and standing watch, helped by a kindly chief mate. Youle becomes a father figure, treating Nathaniel well. At home in England, Elizabeth remains unaware that Youle has fallen in love with her and is questioning everything.

Parsons’s second plotline follows Elizabeth, sturdy in her belief that “[s]lavery is an outrage, a grotesque
atrocity, an affront to human dignity,” as she attempts to join abolitionist causes. Educating herself, she befriends Reverend David Hart, curate in a nearby village, whose Caribbean relatives are slave owners. Affection develops on both sides. The text is wonderfully perceptive and analytical when it comes to this pair and their social milieu.

The novel captures the horrors of the slave trade ably in several scenes, allowing Nathaniel to understand the ugly business transpiring. Parsons also makes note of African participation in the slave trade, which is a potentially surprising historical detail. On the journey to the Caribbean, Parsons uses the tortured details of caging, controlling food and water to control the captives, allowing them into fresh air sparingly, and burying “flux” (dysentery or typhoid) victims at sea to move Youle toward being a more sympathetic character.

Perhaps because the author is a veteran of almost four decades of naval service, the book’s nicely paced plot and interesting and believable characters work in front of clear knowledge of ships, sailing, and the sea. Still, the book may be faulted for its abrupt changes in point of view and sudden transitions, though these do not greatly affect reading pleasure.

With its interestingly designed primitive folk art cover and intelligent prose, A Fisher of Slaves will not
disappoint historical fiction fans who gravitate to Hornblower-style storytelling with a touch of Georgian-era romance.

Disclosure: This article is not an endorsement, but a review. The author of this book provided free copies of the book and paid a small fee to have his/her book reviewed by a professional reviewer. Foreword Reviews and Clarion Review make no guarantee that the author will receive a positive review. Foreword Magazine, Inc. is disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.