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Book Cover

Kate Mosse

The Ghost Ship

‘Today I am sentenced to swing. Before the sun rises, I will be taken from here to a place of execution and there, hanged by the neck until I am dead.’ These are the opening words to this exhilarating novel by Kate Mosse, the third in her series of works inspired by the Huguenot diaspora, which travels from France in the sixteenth century to the Cape of Good Hope in the nineteenth, via Amsterdam and the Canary Islands. The opening words are the spoken thoughts of Louise Reydon-Joubert, the descendant of a distinguished Huguenot family, who is due to be executed that day in 1621 in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria for murder and a number of other crimes for which she is of course, innocent. (She would hardly be a Kate Mosse heroine if it were otherwise.)
Louise’s journey there had commenced some eleven years earlier, coinciding with the assassination in Paris of the previously Protestant King of France, Henri of Navarre, which was a catastrophe for the Huguenots. But when we next encounter her she has become a young woman of fiercely independent spirit and the apparent heiress of a sizeable fortune, including a sailing ship called The Old Moon (the ghost ship of the title). Louise encounters a younger female character, Gilles, who has been passed off by her predatory mother as a boy in order to gain the confidence of a wealthy merchant uncle in the Huguenot port of La Rochelle. Rescuing him from a violent encounter, Louise finds herself falling in love with Gilles whilst realising that he is actually a woman, and it is this unusual love affair which is the main engine of the narrative.
From La Rochelle the derring-dos accumulate in ever-increasing and exotic detail, which pays the reader to concentrate and to resort gratefully from time to time to the descriptions of the principal characters which the author has helpfully set out at the start of the book. Another violent encounter in Amsterdam causes Louise and Gilles to set sail hastily for Las Palmas where Louise develops an ambition to rid the seas around the north coast of Africa of the corsairs and slavers who have been despoiling the ports and coastal communities of the southern Mediterranean. After transforming The Old Moon from a seemingly innocuous cargo vessel into an armed privateer and developing a novel technique for terrorising the terrorisers, they dock in Las Palmas amid scenes of joyous welcome. However, their nemesis soon arrives in the form of a vengeful figure from their past, who utilises the dreadful apparatus of the Spanish Inquisition in hounding Louise to the gibbet. If some of the events described appear far-fetched, that is to overlook the considerable skills with which Kate Mosse draws the reader into the romance and swagger of the narrative and arrives at a pulsating conclusion.

Jonathan Stones


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