Monday, June 22, 2009

The Sparrowhawk series – Book One: Jack Frake

I strongly recommend the book, "Book One: Jack Frake" by Edward Cline. The book is the first in the Sparrowhawk series which sets the scene and the context in which the American Revolution took place. In Book One, we are introduced to 18th century England whose various trades are heavily regulated by the Crown by means of taxes and customs. Amidst all of this we meet Jack Frake who is a boy of ten. Jack is independent in thought, values privacy more than hunger, born in a lowly class and has a keen interest in studying. We also meet his rash father, Cephas, his mother Huldah Frake, his notorious uncle Isham Leith and his parish, Parson Parmley who also happens to be Jack's teacher. The parish quickly acknowledges the talent in Jack and requests his parents to send him to a good boarding school to which they flatly refuse on the account that there would be nobody to help with the household chores.

Later in the book, Jack ends up running away from home and through a series of events joins the smuggling gang of Augustus Skelly. The gang routinely smuggles various goods into the country which were otherwise taxable by the Revenue men appointed by the Crown. There are constant rumblings in the public of high taxes and they secretly welcome the smuggling gang from whom they can purchase materials at a much cheaper price. Jack also meets Redmagne, who is a member of the gang and an intellectual figure. Jack receives most of his education from him and is a big brother figure for Jack. In the book, we encounter Augustus Skelly, who as a leader of the gang sets the policies that the gang must follow. They are often referred to as thieves by the Revenue men but we soon learn that in fact, there is nobody they steal from. They enter into voluntary exchanges by men such as themselves and don't recognize the authority of the Crown on their lives and on their spirits. Skelly remarks in his first encounter with Jack Frake, "There is more freedom in these caves, Mr. Frake, than in our towns. And chains – these things – are a more honest form of slavery than the specious liberty enjoyed by most of our countrymen, who are chained to the laws….You will notice something about the men here, which is that the prospect of being swaddled in chains like these frightens them less than being swaddled in chains of laws, of which there are many more links. We will submit to chains, but we none of us will submit to their paper and ink parents!" Book One closes with Jack leaving England to serve an eight-year sentence in the colonies in the ship Sparrowhawk.

We also encounter the James Taggart-ish, Henoch Pannell, Commissioner Extraordinary of His Majesty's Revenue, and his likes to whom the Crown represents all the privileges they can curry favor with. To them, Augustus Skelly stands as the symbol they dread; a free England where they would have to earn a living.

The narrative of the book is the best I've read in recent times. I was even surprised to see a few tears run down my cheek in response to some of the lines in the book. A few of my favorite passages were one's that described egoism so passionately and the passages that described 18th century London, Paris and Vienna in such awesome terms. The reader is also treated to a firsthand experience of "tragedy of the commons" and the "seen and unseen effects of taxes".

All in all, the book was a great read and I just can't wait to get my hands on Book Two. I can say without any reservation, "This, is great art".

1 comment:

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