With action that spans two countries on opposite sides of the Atlantic, making a credible audio version of this epic tale is no small feat. Victor Garber, the talented actor of stage and screen (Sleepless in Seattle
, I'll Fly Away
, The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd
), does an admirable job. Garber presents the narrative passages in a clear, confident tone and uses his extensive acting experience to create believable voices for the many diverse characters. Follett has thrown in a confusing array of regional accents and disguised characters, but the range of Garber's voice helps keep things straight while heightening the considerable action and communicating the powerful emotions expressed by the very large cast that gives this drama its grand sweep.
This intriguing novel hinges on the courageous struggles of the hero, an indentured coal miner who declares, "I'll go anywhere that is not Scotland--anywhere a man can be free." Getting anywhere else is easier said than done, especially when he's caught up in an entanglement of familial responsibility, forbidden love, official deceit, trickery, and violence. Even though there are plenty of breathless moments when proper ladies are tempted by bare-chested hunks, this is much more than just another adventure-filled love story. It's also an intriguing journey into the social and political realities of the late 18th century, when the rising influence of the American colonies was first taking hold and the shining glory of the British Empire had begun its long, slow fade. (Running time: four hours, four cassettes) --George Laney
--This text refers to the
From Publishers Weekly
The key to Follett's absorbing new historical novel (after A Dangerous Fortune) lies in words that "made a slave of every Scottish miner's son" in the 1700s: "I pledge this child to work in [the laird's] mines, boy and man, for as long as he is able, or until he die." When young Malachi (Mack) McAsh challenges this practice, citing its illegality, he begins a pattern of rebelling against authority while pursuing justice. Mack's dangerous quest for freedom makes him a fugitive in High Glen, where he is brutally punished by Sir George Jamisson in retaliation for his intention to quit the mines. After escaping to London, Mack confronts injustice again when he tries to break the monopoly of "undertakers," who furnish crews to unload coal from ships; arrested and tried, he is transported to Virginia as an indentured servant. All this time, his fate is intertwined with that of Lizzie Hallim, daughter of the impoverished laird of High Glen, who is as spirited, independent-minded and daring as is Mack himself. (Readers may not quite believe her sexual aggressiveness, but Follett knows how to strike chords with feminists.) But Lizzie is gentry, so she must marry Jay, the younger Jamisson son. Follett adroitly escalates the suspense by mixing intrigue and danger, tinged with ironic complications. He also provides authoritative background detail, including specifics about the brutal working conditions of mine workers and coal heavers and the routine of an American tobacco plantation. History is served by references to real-life English liberal John Wilkes, who challenged the established view that the virtual enslavement of "common" men by aristocrats was God's will, and events in Virginia as the Colonies move toward rebellion. If the dialogue sometimes seems lifted from a bodice-ripper, and if far-fetched coincidences keep flinging Lizzie and Mack together, these flaws are redeemed by Follett's vigorous narrative drive and keen eye for character. BOMC and QPB main selections; Reader's Digest Condensed Book selection; simultaneous Random House audio and large-print editions; author tour.
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