Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Book Review: 'White Seed: The Untold Story of the Lost Colony of Roanoke' by Paul Clayton

Author Paul Clayton has an impressive career as a successful writer. His repertoire is rather vast – Historical books ‘Calling Crow’, ‘Flight of the Crow’ and ‘Calling Crow Nation’ (his trilogy of the Southeast Series), a superb novel about the American War in Vietnam ‘Carl Melcher Goes to Vietnam’; socio-racial dysfunction ‘Van Ripplewink: You Can’t Go Home Again’; Science Fiction/Fantasy ‘Strange Worlds’, a horror story of contemporary placement ‘In the Shape of a Man’, and this examination of colonial America – WHITE SEED: The Untold Story of the Los Colony of Roanoke. Paul’s ability to gel character development in a manner than makes the population of his stories credible adds to the terror he asserts as he builds this strange story – all the more strange because the settings in which he places the tale feel as real as newsprint.

For example, Paul’s examination of ‘indentured servants’ is previewed as he opens this story – ‘1587. Plymouth England “We ran away,” said Maggie. “To where?” said Elizabeth. “I would not know where to hide.” Maggie shook her head as if she still could not believe her own story. “We took up with a thief, you know, a cutpurse, and he took us on the road with him.” “A cutpurse!” said Elizabeth. “Aye,” said Maggie. “He led us across Devon and finally to Plymouth. Some horrid man tracked us at every turn and we barely managed to stay a step ahead of him.” “What ever happened to this cutpurse?” asked Elizabeth. Maggie pointed to the mattresses across the cabin. “He sleeps over there.” Elizabeth’s eyes grew large as she stared into the dimness. “God in Heaven! There be not much difference ‘tween a cutpurse and a cutthroat.” Her eyes narrowed. “Would he be the one with the pointy little beard?” “Aye,” said Maggie. “He is not a bad man. He has an idiot son named Humphrey, who traveled with us. But I know not where he is now.” Elizabeth shook her head. “Girl, yeh have had a time of it. Now yeh must get some sleep.” They went over to their mattresses and sat down. Sometime in the night Maggie awoke to laughter and cursing as a dozen ruffians, several of them holding lamps, burst into the cabin carrying half a dozen unconscious men. Maggie and the others sat up on their mattresses, shielding their eyes from the light. “Pressmen,” Elizabeth whispered to Maggie. “They harvest the alehouses and gutters for seamen.” “Look ye,” called a sailor, “we have brought more gentleman planters for Raleigh’s Virginia.” The pressmen and sailors laughed. “Where do yeh want ‘em?” asked the press gang boss. The sailor pointed not far from where Maggie and Elizabeth were sitting. “Put ‘em over there with the rest of the gentlefolk planters.”

Exquisite character development pervades this exploration of the early days of the colonization of America, and even readers who have studied American history will read with fascination the facts Paul has presented - The City of Raleigh Offering Most Excellent Fruits By Planting In The Virginia Paradise. Planters, Artisans And Common Folk Apply At The Berth Of Sir Walter Raleigh’s Ship, Lion. – ‘One of the most haunting mysteries in American history — The Lost Colony of Roanoke — comes roaring back to life in White Seed, with a compelling cast of characters, among them - Maggie Hagger, indentured Irish serving girl, a victim of rape and intimidation, Manteo, Croatoan interpreter for the English, inhabitant of two worlds, belonging to neither, John White, ineffective Governor, painter, dreamer, father and grandfather, Captain Stafford, brave and disciplined, but cruel soldier, and Powhatan, shrewd Tidewater warlord who wages a stealthy war against the colonists… ‘Smith and the Jamestown settlers could find no trace of the English people left behind at Roanoke, and so they disappeared, living on only as legend or as a page or two in the history books

Few authors are as willing to examine the status of an environment with as keen an eye as Paul challenges. Gripping, entertaining, wise and very well written, Paul Clayton has definitely made his mark. Grady Harp, December 17

Editor's note: This review has been published with the permission of Grady Harp. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.

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