The Right Hand of the Sun: A Novel, By Anita Mason

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The Independent Culture

I'm never quite sure whether that subtitle, "A Novel", is meant to function as qualifier, explanation or apology. In this case, perhaps, Anita Mason was worried we might take her historical account of Spain's bloody and brutal empire-building at the beginning of the 16th century for fact, not fiction. Certainly her extensive and detailed research of the period is to be applauded.

This is an utterly convincing portrait of the many characters on a dreadful colonising, treasure-seeking mission, especially as it is told from their many different perspectives: from Muluc, the young man taken prisoner for years by the "winic" tribe, only to be finally released to his fellow Spaniards; to the slave girl who becomes a virtual wife to the Spanish captain; to the various tough sailors who are far from home and chasing gold, alternating between homesickness and all-consuming greed.

Mason is particularly good at showing Muluc's bewilderment as he struggles to readjust to the so-called "civilised" world. But her plotting is strangely anti-climactic, giving an overall sense of a meandering story with no particular focus to make it the compulsive read it should have been.

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