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The Pursuit of William Abbey

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A hauntingly powerful novel about how the choices we make can stay with us forever, by the award-winning author of The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August and 84K. South Africa in the 1880s. A young and naive English doctor by the name of William Abbey witnesses the lynching of a local boy by the white colonists. As the child dies, his mother curses William. William begins A hauntingly powerful novel about how the choices we make can stay with us forever, by the award-winning author of The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August and 84K. South Africa in the 1880s. A young and naive English doctor by the name of William Abbey witnesses the lynching of a local boy by the white colonists. As the child dies, his mother curses William. William begins to understand what the curse means when the shadow of the dead boy starts following him across the world. It never stops, never rests. It can cross oceans and mountains. And if it catches him, the person he loves most in the world will die. Gripping, moving, and utterly thought-provoking, this novel proves once again that Claire North is one of the most innovative voices in modern fiction.


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A hauntingly powerful novel about how the choices we make can stay with us forever, by the award-winning author of The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August and 84K. South Africa in the 1880s. A young and naive English doctor by the name of William Abbey witnesses the lynching of a local boy by the white colonists. As the child dies, his mother curses William. William begins A hauntingly powerful novel about how the choices we make can stay with us forever, by the award-winning author of The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August and 84K. South Africa in the 1880s. A young and naive English doctor by the name of William Abbey witnesses the lynching of a local boy by the white colonists. As the child dies, his mother curses William. William begins to understand what the curse means when the shadow of the dead boy starts following him across the world. It never stops, never rests. It can cross oceans and mountains. And if it catches him, the person he loves most in the world will die. Gripping, moving, and utterly thought-provoking, this novel proves once again that Claire North is one of the most innovative voices in modern fiction.

30 review for The Pursuit of William Abbey

  1. 5 out of 5

    Phrynne

    Another good book from this very talented author. Not my personal favourite but still very good indeed. As happens a lot in her books the main character, William Abbey, is being pursued all around the world. His pursuer is the shade of a dead boy and the results if he gets caught are not good. So, points to the author for the clever story and the way it makes the reader think hard about what is going on all the time. Points too for the amazing amount of research which must have gone into all the Another good book from this very talented author. Not my personal favourite but still very good indeed. As happens a lot in her books the main character, William Abbey, is being pursued all around the world. His pursuer is the shade of a dead boy and the results if he gets caught are not good. So, points to the author for the clever story and the way it makes the reader think hard about what is going on all the time. Points too for the amazing amount of research which must have gone into all the scenes of war, of medical treatments, of travel and even of clothes and food. This is an historical fiction book set between 1880 and 1917 and North gets the atmosphere just right. And of course she writes beautifully. So the reason why it is not making my favourites list? Firstly I did not make any emotional connection with William Abbey and was therefore not really concerned what happened to him. I felt that I was intrigued and yet detached throughout the whole book. And then the ending was okay but not the best and left me feeling a little deprived. It is still a good book. Maybe after the highs of Touch and The End of the Day I was expecting too much.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Scarlett Readz and Runz....Through Novel Time & Distance

    4.5 stars I was very excited to have the opportunity to review this title from the moment it appeared on my radar. Like an endless sea, this remarkable work of fiction does not cease to ever end in scope and engagement as one reads through the 400+ pages. Hopes, dreads, dreams, and desires of a lifetime of every facete imaginable will be touched on in this journey of The Pursuit of William Abbey. Not a country in the world, not a shore unexplored, no historical events within its premise missed, 4.5 stars I was very excited to have the opportunity to review this title from the moment it appeared on my radar. Like an endless sea, this remarkable work of fiction does not cease to ever end in scope and engagement as one reads through the 400+ pages. Hopes, dreads, dreams, and desires of a lifetime of every facete imaginable will be touched on in this journey of The Pursuit of William Abbey. Not a country in the world, not a shore unexplored, no historical events within its premise missed, nor a stone left unturned will bereft the reader the enduring, yet fleeting travels of the haunted soul residing within the pages of this novel. But William Abbey is not the only one on this voyage, this race from death to save loved ones and humanity. We are part in this effort too. Will it be enough? Evil comes in all shapes, forms, and sizes. Sometimes it can be experienced with either our senses or remain inherently hidden deep down in our souls while our conscience turns a blind eye. The famous parody of the devil and the angel on the shoulder whispering sweetly to garner persuasion is a classic. Though it isn't always our actions that get us in trouble. In the case of William Abbey, it was his inaction that was his fatal mistake. Born in London as the youngest of seven children during the reign of Queen Victoria, William chose to become a doctor against the whole and sound moral path set out by his traditional parents. It was an exciting time to be a part of the studies in medicine with the rise of knowledge in science and technology, though in the field and on the streets, it looked a lot more like dread and suffering as William finds out soon. "But the dying will tell their stories. Prostitutes who could not feed themselves, let alone their children, torn from the ward to another night's work not hours after birthing a child. Mangled limbs crushed on factory floors; women with faces ripped in two by flesh-gnawing sulfur. Children coughing tar from the chimney stacks; bursts of the pestilence that swept through eight-to-a-ton tenements faster than a man could sneeze. Faced with this, I longed to escape my patients entirely and the reality of their suffering. When I had money to spend, I spent it on bad drink with Plender and flowers for beautiful, unobtainable women, and it was my pursuit of the latter that banished me from England." Now banished in Natal, Africa, in 1884, William finds himself in a brothel that spawns every disease imaginable when he witnesses the lynching of a Zulu child by the white and powerful elite outside in the town. The fantasies of becoming a hero in the event to intervene and save the boy did not even cross his mind, never even occurred to him. A coward act he regrets for the rest of his life in the chase by the ghost boy who was killed and whose mother spoke a curse most powerful. "She spoke in isiZulu, or at least I thought she did. She did not move as she spoke, nor do I think she blinked. She did not drop the knife wet with her son's blood, or point or howl, or catch the moonlight in her fingers. She did not laugh, nor fall down in a fit, or foam at the mouth. She looked me in the eye, and with her gift she put the curse upon me, and I knew it, and could not name it, felt cold of it crawl up from my feet to my ankles, ankles to my knees, all the way up my body if the earth had grown fingers of icy bone that now pushed with will alone into knuckle-deep hollows of my flesh.” “Then it was done, and both her stare and the ice let me go, and I realized that my whole life I had known nothing of anything and that only truth I had my heart was ignorance.". From this day forward, Langa comes for him with his limp, injured boy shuffle and seeks to kill everyone William has ever truly loved. Creepy, scary, unremorseful he will follow William to the end of the world to never let him forget what he has done by not doing anything and he terrorizes him with the insurmountable heavy-weighted truth of world corruption and the black hearts of its inhabitants. The novel proceeds to travel around the world as William tries to outrun his pursuer. Along the way, he meets violence, death at close call countless times, and experiences hardships and loss, but there never will be rest for the wicked. A vicious cycle of corruption ensues and never ceases to run out no matter where in the world he is. Sweeping over all continents, William can see the truth of people's hearts and he is not alone. A circle of other Truth-speakers becomes known and 'enslaved' by governments to use as spies and play out political intrigues to add to the plot of the novel. Themes in socialism, communism, anarchism, and nationalism add to the turmoil and world unrest, historically exploring moral character, (in-)justice, (in-)equality, liberty, and freedom. Readers will encounter disasters like the San Francisco earthquake, mining accidents like at Rolling Hill, worker strikes and poor immigrant working conditions in the early days of the US, tunnel collapses, opium trades, the discovery of radium and on and on the range of international incidents and intrigue continue as the novel goes on. There is much to be learned from the wisdom imbued by the story. It isn't all a negative endeavor. The scenes are set in-depth, richly against the plot backdrop. William's character serves as a reflection of human flaws wretched deep and the arduous growth it takes to see openly and be open-hearted to love, to be vulnerable and to judge and hate less. As William isn't immune to feelings despite his distaste at the truth of the world, he longs to love and be loved. He meets his match and she is a Truth-speaker as well, but fate will not allow for their love to commence, or does it? With a race to the cure of all evil, it is left in the stars for the reader to find out what happens. Many interesting characters and historical figures enter the plot and leave their footprint on this path of destruction. Some are brilliant and insightful, others are as evil as they come. Multicultural aspects feel authentic and whisk the reader through exotic, intoxicating places that leave the flavor of wonderful travel behind. As the saying goes: "That's the thing about books. They let you travel without moving your feet." -Jhumpa Lahiri Overall this novel has a tremendous reach in complexity, is a remarkable book to read and an even greater feat to write. It is difficult to describe it with high and low points or arcs as it is mostly steadfast and concise. North's writing holds strong throughout and is lyrical at the same time. The thought-provoking content will captivate and allure to the brilliant wisdom within. A 'truth-speaking' if you will with the insight of heart and mind, border lining exceptionalism in talent and understanding of human nature. We all can use a slice of it. If you enjoy unique, thought-provoking novels, that hold adventure within its pages, then this one is written for you. Most likely, I will read this book again to get even more out of it, as I'm sure more wisdom has been hidden in these powerful pages and passages. I hope you'll enjoy it too. HAPPY READING :) I received a digital arc from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own. * quotes taken from an advanced reader copy might be subject to change. More of my reviews here: Through Novel Time & Distance

  3. 4 out of 5

    Sarah-Hope

    I requested an electronic advance copy of this book from NetGalley because the premise it's built on sounded fascinating, and I was delighted that the publisher approved my request. The premise here is that William Abbey, an Englishman who sees (and doesn't act in response to) a child killed by a white mob in Africa, is cursed by the child's mother. The shadow of her son will follow Abbey for the rest of his life, and any time the shadow catches up, the person Abbey loves most will die. In I requested an electronic advance copy of this book from NetGalley because the premise it's built on sounded fascinating, and I was delighted that the publisher approved my request. The premise here is that William Abbey, an Englishman who sees (and doesn't act in response to) a child killed by a white mob in Africa, is cursed by the child's mother. The shadow of her son will follow Abbey for the rest of his life, and any time the shadow catches up, the person Abbey loves most will die. In essence, Abbey is stuck in a deadly game of tag. There are some "rules" involved. First, Abbey is now a Truth-Teller. The closer the child's shadow gets, the more clearly Abbey will hear others' private truths and feel compelled to blurt them out. Second, the child's shadow travels at a steady pace, regardless of terrain. Abbey can buy himself time by using modern transportation to distance himself from the shadow, but eventually the shadow will catch up with him, unless he keeps moving. Now, add two complications. First, Abbey isn't the only person who has been turned into a Truth-Teller by a curse—it turns out there are others like him. Second, the governments of many nations are on the hunt for "Truth-Tellers," who are exceptionally useful in resolving questions of guilt and acts of rebellion. The governments aren't necessarily looking for Truth-Tellers who will work with them voluntarily; they will imprison Truth-Tellers, if it serves their purpose. That's the basic formula: one curse, two rules, two complications. It's potentially fascinating and nail-bitingly exciting, but the book never really hits its stride. Abbey can see into others, but not himself, so readers have a protagonist about whom they know relatively little and who remains partially occluded throughout the book. Also, the book is long (464 pages) and its pace is steady—a bit like the pace of the ever-approaching child's shadow. It's like driving at thirty-five without ever speeding up or slowing down. The Pursuit of William Abbey is interesting (an over-used word, but an appropriate one in this case). Unfortunately, interesting isn't the same as engaging or engrossing. The reader's experience feels flattened.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Nils | nilsreviewsit

    3.5 stars ‘The Great War had been coming for such a long time. It was born in the hearts of our ruling men the day they were held up in the crib and told they were blessed with a greatness that others could not share. It was nurtured when they saw their greatness challenged, and sought some way to prove their strength. Now it eats us whole.’ ~ The Pursuit of William Abbey is a powerful historical fiction and also part fantasy novel by the award winning author, Claire North. As I’ve never read any 3.5 stars ‘The Great War had been coming for such a long time. It was born in the hearts of our ruling men the day they were held up in the crib and told they were blessed with a greatness that others could not share. It was nurtured when they saw their greatness challenged, and sought some way to prove their strength. Now it eats us whole.’ ~ The Pursuit of William Abbey is a powerful historical fiction and also part fantasy novel by the award winning author, Claire North. As I’ve never read any books by North before but have always heard much praise for her narrative style, I was very intrigued to read this one. This book is described as ‘utterly though-provoking’, which I can say, I firmly agree with. The book tells the story of William Abbey, a young English doctor, working during the 1800s, which was around the period when many countries were being colonised. William witnesses a young boy in South Africa being executed by a group of white colonists; he stands on the sidelines doing absolutely nothing to stop the atrocity and nothing to save the boy afterwards as he lay dying in his mother’s arms. In the wake of the mother’s wrath, she curses William. From that day forward the shadow of the dead boy relentlessly pursues him across the globe, and whenever it is near, William becomes a ‘truth-teller’, as he gains the ability to discover people’s inner thoughts and desires. The shadow must also never catch William, because when it does the person he loves most in the world will immediately die. That premise alone instantly drew me in, I mean how could it not? Then in the first opening chapters we are introduced to a wartime nurse, who meets our main protagonist, William Abbey, whilst dealing with an overwhelming amount of severely injured soldiers, fresh from the battlefield. North hits you with vivid descriptions of the mess, the gore, and the decaying caused from soldiers with missing limbs, and infected wounds; the dead, the dying. The dramatic beginning certainly grabs your attention and I truly commend North for not shying away from the harrowing realities of warfare. The stark depiction also continues as William recounts the time of the boy’s execution, to the nurse, and describes his horrific burning in great detail. This was a particularly uncomfortable, and unsettling scene to see unfold, and it hit me quite emotionally. I respect North for again choosing not to sugar coat anything, which also worked perfectly to establish the central theme in the novel; the nature of truths. Although this may be a work of fiction, no-one can deny that these horrendous lynchings did take place in history, and no one can deny that many of those were solely because of prejudice, therefore these stories should also never be denied. No matter what you feel about these scenes, North powerfully engraves these images in our minds, and they are images that should never be swept under a rug. We owe it to the people who suffered to know and remember the extent of their suffering, and I applaud North for bringing this to light. I also very much enjoyed North’s use of stream of consciousness during these scenes as it elegantly reflected the emotions of guilt and confusion that William wars against. He makes us question, should he have risked his life and reputation to save the boy? Does he deserve the curse or was he just as much a victim of circumstances? A large majority of the novel then focuses on William Abbey running from the youth’s shadow in order to save those he holds dearest to him. From Berlin to Egypt to Ireland, and throughout the globe, we see William become embroiled in situations that become out of his depth. I felt the plot significantly slowed during this point, and went off in directions that perhaps took away from the exploration of the shadow and the curse. Although we do get more revelations on this slowly throughout the story, my expectations were that this would be the sole focal point, not one that also involved espionage. Having said that I did appreciate the backstory to the side characters that were introduced later on. I particularly enjoyed the backstory of Margot, a French woman who William becomes entangled with, and her history was pretty sad. I also felt the ending was left a bit too open for my own personal taste, as I would have preferred more closure. However, regardless of my opinion, the ending does have an authentic stroke to it because realistically speaking, when you’ve lived a life full of seeing truths, deceit, tragedy and a life of continuous running from a shadow, well it’s never going to end nicely tied up with a pretty bow, is it? There are some things that you just keep on running from or chasing towards. ~ ‘Where was that fine young man I believed myself to be? Perhaps he had never lived. Perhaps we were all just savages, in the moonlight through the blackened boab tree.’ Arc provided by Orbit in exchange for an honest review. Thank you for the copy! The Pursuit of William Abbey is out 14th November 2019

  5. 5 out of 5

    Shalini

    A very well researched book which had a curse as the focal point. It all started with one and led to a merry chase. William Abbey in Africa, did not save a child from the mob. The child died and the mother cursed him that the shadow of her child would pursue him throughout his life. If the shadow caught William, someone close to him would die. And William needed to be on the move in any mode of transportation. The shadow would come after him at a steady rate. And William in essence became the A very well researched book which had a curse as the focal point. It all started with one and led to a merry chase. William Abbey in Africa, did not save a child from the mob. The child died and the mother cursed him that the shadow of her child would pursue him throughout his life. If the shadow caught William, someone close to him would die. And William needed to be on the move in any mode of transportation. The shadow would come after him at a steady rate. And William in essence became the Truth-Teller. He could read minds and would be forced to tell the truth. My first book by author Claire North, I was quite fascinated with the curse as such a thing is common in my land. I have cursed once or twice at men... No idea if that came true ever. So getting to the story, I liked the long twisted road that William had to take to keep a step ahead of his shadow. The author's hard work was portrayed well in the way different cultures and histories of the land were written. I liked seeing William traverse through different worlds, always telling the truth. A price he had to pay. The story moved at a child's pace and was quite detailed with William's thoughts. Ending was Quite a few scenes were powerfully written, some of them were hard hitting. The words produced a strong imagery which remained all through the book. The author was plenty talented, that was obvious in the characterization of William Abbey. I could feel for him as his curse forced him to do what he would have probably never chosen. Overall, quite a different read.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Liz Barnsley

    Review to follow for the tour.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Marianne

    4.5s “I know the truth of men’s hearts, and what I know is that they are right, every single one of them. They live within the power of their own rightness, and anyone who disagrees with them can only be wrong, and being wrong, they are therefore less. That is what I know, and it terrifies me.” The Pursuit of William Abbey is the sixth stand-alone novel by award-winning British author, Claire North. Banished to South Africa by his wealthy father, Dr William Abbey is (poorly) practicing medicine is 4.5★s “I know the truth of men’s hearts, and what I know is that they are right, every single one of them. They live within the power of their own rightness, and anyone who disagrees with them can only be wrong, and being wrong, they are therefore less. That is what I know, and it terrifies me.” The Pursuit of William Abbey is the sixth stand-alone novel by award-winning British author, Claire North. Banished to South Africa by his wealthy father, Dr William Abbey is (poorly) practicing medicine is a small town in late 1884 when, after an inhuman act of cowardice, he is cursed. He watched as a white mob tortured a Zulu boy and, upon his death, the boy’s mother visited a life-long curse on William: the shadow of the boy will follow him, always. He soon discovers that if Langa’s shadow catches up, the person most beloved by William dies and quickly understands he must flee. But a side effect of the curse is the ability, when the slowly-shuffling shadow is gaining ground on William, to know the true thoughts of those around him. He is a truth-speaker. Certain agencies see this as a beneficial attribute: William suddenly finds himself in the service of Her Majesty’s Government. They have the resources to help him outrun Langa’s shadow, as long as he’s willing to use his special ability to their advantage. In doing this, he discovers there are other truth-speakers. He seeks them out, in hope of a cure, but not all see it as a curse, considering it instead, a blessing, a gift. In 1917, in a field hospital in France, as she watches him sit vigil with a wounded soldier, Sister Ellis begins to understand that Dr William Abbey was very probably not sent from HQ, but is there for another reason. He seems to know her heart and, in the early hours, he explains the long and convoluted path that has led him there. North’s characters, despite their flaws, are easy to invest in. William freely admits to being a coward, although occasionally proves the contrary in a tale not devoid of heroic acts: the most heroic actor will likely be a surprise to readers. The most despicable, too, is will only gradually be revealed as that. For the rest of the cast, when Langa is close, the swamp of truths from those around him that fill William’s head give the reader a multitude of lives: some as detailed vignettes, some just snippets, and a generous dose of history. What an amazing imagination Claire North has! Again, a cleverly plotted tale that is well-thought out, utterly riveting and thought-provoking, a perceptive commentary on empires and how they use their power. North gives her characters a wealth of insightful observations on human nature. Brilliant, as usual.

  8. 4 out of 5

    The Tattooed Book Geek (Drew).

    As always this review can also be found on my blog The Tattooed Book Geek: https://thetattooedbookgeek.wordpress... In 1917, France, against the backdrop of the Great War. In a French hospital for wounded soldiers with cannon and gunfire reverberating outside and enemy forces closing in Dr William Abbey, over a few nights and with Langa, his shadow ever approaching and drawing nearer recounts his story to Sister Ellis. Abbey’s story starts in South Africa, Natal, 1884, in a small and dusty As always this review can also be found on my blog The Tattooed Book Geek: https://thetattooedbookgeek.wordpress... In 1917, France, against the backdrop of the Great War. In a French hospital for wounded soldiers with cannon and gunfire reverberating outside and enemy forces closing in Dr William Abbey, over a few nights and with Langa, his shadow ever approaching and drawing nearer recounts his story to Sister Ellis. Abbey’s story starts in South Africa, Natal, 1884, in a small and dusty frontier town. Abbey watches unmoving, too cowardly to intervene, to scared to put his own well-being in jeopardy as a gang of white colonists violently lynch Langa, a local young black boy to death. In her arms, as her boy fades from this world and as he breathes his last breathe his mother curses William Abbey. Abbey made his choice, to do nothing and choices have consequences. His lack of action, lack of caring and lack of thought cursed him, he could have stood up and been counted, could have made a change, could have told the gang to stop…but he didn’t. Instead, the privileged white man, he chose to stand idly by as Langa, who, due to his colour is seen as a nobody and a nothing was brutally murdered. The curse, that the ghost of, the shadow of Langa, her son will follow Abbey to the ends of the earth, across the expanse of the known world. The shadow won’t ever stop following him, no matter how far or how fast he runs Langa will always be there, endlessly tracking him, walking, across different countries, different continents, across oceans, deserts, mountains and land always at the same steady pace, never wavering and never tiring. For the rest of his days, Langa will be there dogging his every step, haunting him. The curse turns Abbey into a truth-speaker, someone who can see into the hearts of others but not into their own, their own is the one truth closed to them. It is like looking into a person’s soul, laying them bare, knowing them intimately and seeing who they truly are. As Langa draws nearer, Abbey sees the truth within people and the nearer the shadow, the stronger the connection. When the shadow of Langa is far away, Abbey is himself with his own beliefs, thoughts and feelings. As Langa draws near he starts dreaming the obscure and vague thoughts of others but still maintains his own senses and his own sense of self. As Langa approaches the clearer that Abbey can see into other people’s hearts and the truth that they hide within, the truths that they hold in the deepest, darkest part of their hearts, the truths that they won’t admit even to themselves or others. When Langa is in close proximity to Abbey, days, hours away, the effect of the curse is overpowering, overtaking his own thoughts, feelings and beliefs overwhelming his own truth and turning him into a babbling, rambling wreck with the truths of all of those around him cascading like rain, flowing like blood from a freshly opened wound from his mouth in a torrent. If the shadow, if Langa should reach Abbey, should touch him then, the person that he loves the most in the world will die. The cycle will repeat until everyone Abbey cares about is dead, there is no cure, no removal, Langa will haunt him forever on a never-ending journey as, to survive, to allow his loved ones to survive he must walk an endless road. For Abbey, it is a curse, for others, those in a position of power, they don’t see it as a curse but as an ability to be used and Abbey, himself as a tool to be exploited. As such, Abbey comes to the attention of the Nineteen, a government agency for the British Empire where he is enlisted, employed to spy on people and learn the truths of them, of political secrets, of talk of rebellion and of threats to the Empire. Abbey can’t settle down, can’t stay anywhere for too long and has to always be on the move to keep ahead of the shadow that will follow him until his last breath. He is always on guard as Langa needs to be close enough so that he can be useful to his masters in the Nineteen and hear the truths of his mark, his target and report on any threats that he finds. There are others with the same curse as Abbey, some, like him, see it as a curse, others as a blessing and when he meets another truth-speaker they can converse simply by knowing the truth of each other with no words needed. The shadow never shows you your own truth, that remains a mystery to you, something that you can only glimpse if you see it in the eyes of another truth-speaker. As such, there is a sense of mystery to Abbey and his own truth. He is a coward and a rather inept spy but due to the presence of Langa, even when he isn’t under Langa’s influence from initially being blind to the thoughts of others, blinkered, he learns to open his eyes, read people and see the truth in them. There is the truth, things that are fact, reality and that everyone knows to be true. Then there is your own truth, opinions, beliefs and feelings that you hold to be true but that are subjective to you, personally. Also, there is the truth that you believe about yourself but won’t admit, the truth that you keep hidden and that you keep locked away because you are too scared to look in the mirror, too scared to look too deeply within. If we don’t know the truth about ourselves then we can pretend that we are decent, honest and good, that we are content and happy, that we would do the right thing if needed, that we aren’t lonely and that we aren’t drowning in a sea of pain. But, what if someone could look inside and know the truth, pull back the mask, reveal the lies that we tell ourselves and know our own truth and what we keep in our heart, it is a frightening thought. North has crafted a clever, complex, harrowing and thought-provoking story that is full of suspense and tension. The Pursuit of William Abbey spans the breadth of the globe, takes place across many years and is layered with depth. I was gripped by it and found it utterly fascinating. The blurb doesn’t give much away and honestly, I think that it is for the best as it allows you to experience how the story unfolds for yourself with only the bare minimum of information. Prior to reading the book, I had read the blurb and apart from the vague outline, I didn’t know what awaited me within the pages, what dark and disturbing roads the story would travel down. But, whatever I expected it wasn’t what I got with the story going far above and beyond what I envisioned happening and it is a powerhouse of impressive storytelling on display by North…just go buy it, read it and love it. The Pursuit of William Abbey transcends any single genre to be something more, merging together historical fiction, mysticism and the supernatural, a revenge tale and an espionage thriller with hints of a love story and horror all thrown into the mix to create an incredible and powerful story.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Robin Bonne

    Yikes on a bike. I don’t want to put the emotional labor into unpacking what is wrong with this narrative. The “magical negro” trope is a big no-no for white authors.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Christine Sandquist (eriophora)

    This review and others can be read on my blog, Black Forest Basilisks. Thank you to Orbit for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review! I’m convinced: it’s literally impossible for Claire North to write a bad book. I think she’s just genuinely incapable of anything less than excellence. When she writes a sentence, it just comes out good. Every single time. Of this I am certain. Alternatively, there’s the much more mundane and likely scenario: she’s very, very good at proofing, has a This review and others can be read on my blog, Black Forest Basilisks. Thank you to Orbit for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review! I’m convinced: it’s literally impossible for Claire North to write a bad book. I think she’s just genuinely incapable of anything less than excellence. When she writes a sentence, it just comes out good. Every single time. Of this I am certain. Alternatively, there’s the much more mundane and likely scenario: she’s very, very good at proofing, has a wonderful editor and team behind her, and has honed her craft over many years and novels. However her frankly gorgeous writing originates, the result is the same: yet another brilliant novel being gifted to the world. The plot is a fascinating mix of intrigue, social issues, and politics – all set on top of a deadly game of tag. The titular William Abbey has been cursed with the shadow of young boy who was burned to death by a mob as Abbey looked on. The shadow follows him at a shuffle… slow, but implacable. When the shadow reaches him, it uses him as a conduit to jump to the person he loves most and kill them. And then… it begins its journey again. Abbey must constantly be on the move in order to stay ahead of the shadow and protect the few friends he has remaining. As the shadow approaches, Abbey gains a particular ability: to see into the hearts and minds of those around him. To discern and understand the truths by which they live. To understand the essence of what motivates them, their heart’s desire, their deepest and most closely-held secrets. The lines between Abbey and those around him blur until he becomes more of a mirror than a man. Their truths become his, and he cannot shut them out. The closer the shadow is to him, the stronger his compulsion towards truth becomes until he’s literally unable to cease speaking the truths of those around him. This is what ultimately lands him in trouble: truth-speakers are highly valued by the international espionage community, and he soon finds himself under the control of a group called The Nineteen and in the employ of the British Crown. ‘They interviewed me for two days before I began to dream my neighbours’ dreams again. Waking in the middle of the night, it occurred to me that this would be a good time to rock madly on the end of my bed. To howl. To march through the London streets looking for a fight. To get immensely drunk, find a brothel, visit old friends, write offensive letters to ancient, half-forgotten adversaries. Smash glass. Pray. Langa comes. He comes. He comes. I just lay there, wide awake, and understood that I was a prisoner in a gilded cage, and that my life would be spent running, and violating the hearts of men, and I did nothing until the morning came.’ With their hands and eyes guiding his actions, what ensues is a tale of treachery, betrayal, and self-reflection. Abbey is forced to face that he, too, is part of the machine that killed that boy at the Cape. He, too, is perpetuating this with every action he performs for the crown. As he goes on to meet other truth-speakers and sees the truth of their stories and backgrounds, he’s forced to reevaluate his choices. He’s duplicitous, sly, and does his best to support the things he believes in despite his circumstances. He becomes involved with libertine groups, vying for voice and representation. He falls in love with a woman who cannot love him in return. He looks into others and sees himself through their eyes. As Abbey searches for a cure, a way to stop this shadow, his road in fact takes him back to the place he was originally cursed. On the Cape, when he finally tracks down the daughter of the woman who cursed him, she makes it clear that his curse is exactly what he deserved and no less. He is selfish in his desire to be free and has learned nothing. By removing the shadow, all he is seeking to do is that for which he and all the white colonizers are guilty of: assuming that the native population of Africa exists solely to serve him. “You just know black woman put shadow on you, black boy follow you, black woman forgive you. We – in your story. You do not know our story. You do not hear our story of when white men came and killed my brother. You do not see. Want everything to serve you. I will not. I will not serve you,” she says, as she sends Abbey along his way. North’s prose weaves imagery and thoughts with seemingly-effortless grace and precision. Each sentence connects to the sentence before and after it. Paragraphs are merely one piece of the whole. It is almost impossible to pick apart a chapter; every line of this book is wholly integrated into the ones around it. I adore this style of writing, and I find that it helps me feel fully submerged within the atmosphere and story. North often utilizes a stream-of-consciousness style narrative to describe the overwhelming deluge of thoughts and emotion Abbey experiences. This is supremely effective, and brings forward the unique cadence of each person Abbey interacts with. It additionally serves to set these portions away from the standard narration without breaking flow or causing interruption. Where some authors might rely on formatting or italics, North uses style. In The Pursuit of William Abbey, North further pushes the mold by reordering events outside their chronological progression and presenting us with a highly unreliable narrator. This is a true piece of ergodic literature, requiring attention and effort on the part of the reader to untangle the story as it is presented. The one aspect of this narrative that didn’t work as well for me was the pacing. Although I did enjoy the social commentary present within it and thoroughly enjoyed each page of writing, I found that the first half of the book seemed to flow a bit more slowly than I might have hoped. It’s not until the 50% mark that the underlying plot comes to the forefront. Prior to that, it feels like a series of small vignettes; although they are lovely to read and consume, I still felt that I was missing the meat of the book. Fortunately, after that juncture, the book immediately sped up and brought us back to the overarching narrative with a pleasant swiftness and efficiency that made the second half of the book a quick and lively read. Once the narrative hit its stride, I was fully engaged and eager to see how things would pan out. North dives deep into the consequences of racism and colonialism. If it does not, perhaps, have the immediacy and brutality found in Queen of the Conquered, it nevertheless plays a pivotal role in the book. It doesn’t fully permeate, but it doesn’t shy away from addressing the consequences of the British empire. Through the lens of Abbey’s own experiences, we witness the double standards the brown-skinned people of Africa are held to. Justice is skewed, arbitrary, and horrifically racist. In fact, this is in large part the origin of his shadow: when a young black boy, Langa, was discovered kissing the daughter of a wealthy white man, the town immediately cried scandal and dragged him to his death. ‘Nor was the condition of the Bantu peoples within Natal or the neighbouring Boer states slavery, for lo – if a white man killed a black man, beat a black child to death, assaulted a black woman or burnt their property, they would duly be taken before the court of law. There, guarded by white men, they would be judged by their white peers, their plea considered by a white judge, and there might even upon some occasion be a fine passed down, if the case was considered severe. If matters got that far. Of course, should a black man kill a white man, it was unlikely that the wandering lawmen of the wild grasslands would have anything to say on the matter. The white men would come with rifle and rope, and before all his family they would most likely torture that same black man to death, leaving his mutilated body for crows. And if, incensed by this, his black neighbours turned against the white and drove the farmers from the land, impaling hand and head with spears hoarded in the secret places of the kraal, those bruised survivors of Boer or English stock would flee to Pretoria, Durban, Kimberley or the Cape and report on the feared uprising of the natives, and there would come marching with drum and Maxim gun all the queen’s horses and all the queen’s men, and the vultures would flock in from mountain and far-off withered perch to feast royally on a spread of flesh.’ The Pursuit of William Abbey is a fundamentally human book. It takes a slice of history and examines it through a lens of personal truths: the politicians who think themselves the epitome of righteousness, the priests who come closer to god even as they dehumanize anyone with different skin tones. These appear as true to these people, even if they are not perhaps objectively so. This is a study in morality and in the flawed ways we see ourselves. I highly recommend this to anyone who enjoys beautifully written, thoughtful novels focused on morality, history, and humanity. This is a slow, winding road of a book – some patience and willingness to untangle a twisted narrative will be needed. This is not a quick, easy weekend read… but it’s one that is gorgeous and rewarding. Dense, but delightful. If you enjoyed this review, please consider reading others like it on my blog, Black Forest Basilisks.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Laura Jean

    This is a phenomenal book. It has a strong philosophical bent. What is truth? What is the truth of a person's heart? Can one heart contain multiple conflicting "truths"? So powerful and thought provoking. I can't imagine the author choosing a better time to set this masterpiece. Set between 1884 and 1917, a time when people believed that science and reason could master all, but when magic and superstition were still strong in many cultures. A time when the British Empire covered 3/4 of the globe This is a phenomenal book. It has a strong philosophical bent. What is truth? What is the truth of a person's heart? Can one heart contain multiple conflicting "truths"? So powerful and thought provoking. I can't imagine the author choosing a better time to set this masterpiece. Set between 1884 and 1917, a time when people believed that science and reason could master all, but when magic and superstition were still strong in many cultures. A time when the British Empire covered 3/4 of the globe and forced their mores and culture and beliefs on many of the cultures in their dominion to the disgust and irritation of those whom they ruled. I'm going to need to read it again, just to make sure that I understood everything...gave the philosophy enough of my attention. I may have missed some in my rush to find out what happened and how. Just a simply wonderful read.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Roy

    3.5* recently when I've read a North book ive been a little underwhelmed. We have the great prose shes known for, a more linear plot style and a story very well researched ( historical fiction elements). I just didnt feel as engaged as I did with her previous stories.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Hiu Gregg

    Review to come!

  14. 5 out of 5

    Joanna Park

    This was a fascinating, gripping and thought provoking read. I always enjoy this author’s books as they are always very unique reads. The Pursuit Of William Abbey is no exception as it manages to be part historical, part science fiction but does this incredibly well so it’s never confusing. The story intrigued me from the start with an interesting opening and I soon found myself drawn into the story. The writing is beautiful and very vivid with some fabulous descriptions of the places that This was a fascinating, gripping and thought provoking read. I always enjoy this author’s books as they are always very unique reads. The Pursuit Of William Abbey is no exception as it manages to be part historical, part science fiction but does this incredibly well so it’s never confusing. The story intrigued me from the start with an interesting opening and I soon found myself drawn into the story. The writing is beautiful and very vivid with some fabulous descriptions of the places that William visits on his journey. I loved how she manages to show the life and sounds of each place which allows the reader to feel like they are actually there watching it all unfold. Some of the descriptions are a little graphic at times, especially the injuries of the soldiers at the start, which were a little stomach churning. The author definitely doesn’t hold back from telling the truth about a situation which makes for uncomfortable reading sometimes. The story is a very interesting one and I enjoyed following William on his journey and I was very intrigued to see how it would all end up. It’s not a particularly fast paced book but there is always something to keep the reader interested, so if you get to a slow bit do keep reading as it’s definitely worth it. Huge thanks to Tracy Fenton for inviting me onto the blog tour and to Orbit books for my copy of this book via Netgalley.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Lel Budge

    William Abbey witness the killing of a young child by a mob of white men in South Africa, he did nothing to help. The child’s mother, after seeing her sons last breath curses William, the child’s shadow will follow him for the rest of his life…..if it catches up to him, someone he loves will die. William starts travelling to keep ahead of the shadow, he can also hear people’s inner truthful thoughts and has no choice but to then speak them out loud. He’s now a truth-teller and as a result various William Abbey witness the killing of a young child by a mob of white men in South Africa, he did nothing to help. The child’s mother, after seeing her sons last breath curses William, the child’s shadow will follow him for the rest of his life…..if it catches up to him, someone he loves will die. William starts travelling to keep ahead of the shadow, he can also hear people’s inner truthful thoughts and has no choice but to then speak them out loud. He’s now a truth-teller and as a result various governments really want to use his talent for their own ends at whatever cost. All the while William is being followed by the shadow. This is a unique read, with brutal descriptions of the effects of war, the supernatural, fear, excitement and loss all in one harrowing and thought provoking tale. It will stay with me for a long time. Thank you to Tracy and Compulsive Readers for the opportunity to participate in this blog tour, for the promotional materials and a free copy of the ebook. This is my honest, unbiased review.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Onceinabluemoon

    Very different, upsettingly graphic at times to the atrocities against mankind...

  17. 4 out of 5

    Melanie’s reads

    In trying to read out of my comfort zone I’m saying yes to books that previously I wouldn’t have picked up. Historical fiction and fantasy being the two I really avoided. This book covers both and I’m so glad I made the decision to give it a try. In the opening chapters set in Jardin du Pansee, just miles from the frontline in 1917, we meet Dr William Abbey at a French hospital as he recounts his story to Sister Ellis. The dead and dying all around this is a brutal introduction to the reality of In trying to read out of my comfort zone I’m saying yes to books that previously I wouldn’t have picked up. Historical fiction and fantasy being the two I really avoided. This book covers both and I’m so glad I made the decision to give it a try. In the opening chapters set in Jardin du Pansee, just miles from the frontline in 1917, we meet Dr William Abbey at a French hospital as he recounts his story to Sister Ellis. The dead and dying all around this is a brutal introduction to the reality of war. But we have started towards the end and as the doctor tells his tale we go back to the start and to 1884 as he stands by and does nothing as a Zulu child is lynched, strung up and set on fire as his family watch. This is the real backbone of the story as the boy’s mother curses him to be followed by the shadow of her dead son. He is then doomed to forever run to escape the shadow. The curse has transformed the doctor into a truth speaker. Able to see the truth within peoples souls this makes him a valuable asset and he soon attracts attention. While the curse is the backbone, truth is the real heart of the story. There are many kinds of truth, the truths we tell ourselves, the truths we believe and the truths we hide from others. This is a slower paced book, taking time to develop and the writing is exquisite. The perfect book to get lost in. This book spans continents, time and genres. It is old fashioned story telling at its very best. It is the type of tale I imagine being passed down in time between fathers and sons around a fire.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Susan Hampson

    The more I read this book and the more the cover became perfect for the story. The story began in 1884 and my skin crawled as arrogant white men showed no respect for the native South African people. They are seen as not human, having no feelings and being worthless, so when William Abbey, a young doctor, witnesses a Zulu boy being tied to a tree and set on fire he feels nothing for him. When he is cut from the tree, unrecognisable his mother holds him while he still fights to breathe. When she The more I read this book and the more the cover became perfect for the story. The story began in 1884 and my skin crawled as arrogant white men showed no respect for the native South African people. They are seen as not human, having no feelings and being worthless, so when William Abbey, a young doctor, witnesses a Zulu boy being tied to a tree and set on fire he feels nothing for him. When he is cut from the tree, unrecognisable his mother holds him while he still fights to breathe. When she has to end his life she curses Abbey. The spirit of her son will hunt him down, as long as Abbey lives, and when he comes in contact with him the person Abbey loves the most will die, then the next and the next. Abbey runs and runs but has to sleep, has to eat and has to rest but the spirit keeps coming, never having to stop. Oh boy, this made my skin turn cold, no matter how slow this spirit was I knew to would keep catching up with him. He really did find out what it was like to lose the people you loved, like the child's mother, did. The only thing he could do to combat it was not to love if he had the choice. A new 'talent' is discovered through his curse, one that is thought of as an extremely useful commodity for the government. The story does have lulls, or should I say gentler moments because when the tension rises it really goes sky-high for some pretty intense heart-pounding chapters. This is such an unusual story that I didn't know if I was happy to find there were more people with a similar curse to him or more uneasy. I really did feel for William Abbey who was continually after the proverbial apple held in front of him. The book ticks so many genres, horror, supernatural and espionage all blended into a haunting belter. I wish to thank NetGalley and the publisher for an e-copy of this book which I have reviewed honestly.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Kate

    I'm a huge fan of Claire North's work - The Gameshouse is one of my very favourite reads of 2019, a masterpiece. With William Abbey we're given another intriguing, clever and original piece of speculative fiction, which is also extremely moving. It provides damning comment on the evils of empire and of a society in which one stands back, watches horrendous injustice committed and does nothing. This isn't my favourite of North's work - I found it a little repetitive and thought that it stalled on I'm a huge fan of Claire North's work - The Gameshouse is one of my very favourite reads of 2019, a masterpiece. With William Abbey we're given another intriguing, clever and original piece of speculative fiction, which is also extremely moving. It provides damning comment on the evils of empire and of a society in which one stands back, watches horrendous injustice committed and does nothing. This isn't my favourite of North's work - I found it a little repetitive and thought that it stalled on a couple of occasions, losing my attention - but nevertheless it's not a novel I'll forget in a hurry and is testament once more to the extraordinary talent and imagination of Claire North. Review to follow shortly on For Winter Nights.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Paul

    The premise is simple, Doctor William Abbey stood back and let a horrific event occur, making himself complicit by his inaction. His penance? To be forever followed by a ghost who will kill someone Abbey loves if it catches up with him. There is more, however. Abbey is also cursed to know the truth of people’s hearts. Not that sanitized version of the truth that we portray to the outside world. The pure, undiluted truth that people often deny within themselves. …mankind loves to be sure. To know. The premise is simple, Doctor William Abbey stood back and let a horrific event occur, making himself complicit by his inaction. His penance? To be forever followed by a ghost who will kill someone Abbey loves if it catches up with him. There is more, however. Abbey is also cursed to know the truth of people’s hearts. Not that sanitized version of the truth that we portray to the outside world. The pure, undiluted truth that people often deny within themselves. …mankind loves to be sure. To know. We cling to the most irrational truths like cornerstones in the houses of our lives. The novel begins at the tail end of the 19th century, during the twilight of the British Empire, and the politics of the era plays an important part. Abbey’s curse is, in part, a result of his own self-righteousness. He is a doctor and a gentlemen, and as part of the Empire he cannot ever be wrong, can he? Of course, that bold statement could not be further from the truth. Rather than embracing cultural differences, Britain spent centuries subsuming it. Some would argue we still do, and I’m not sure that they’re wrong. Since a young age, Abbey was taught that the strong destroy the weak. He is sent out into the world sure of his moral superiority. We’re reminded that the greatness of Great Britain, the rampant imperialism, was built by the suppression and suffering of indigenous cultures at every turn. Being in thrall to the truth, Abbey is forced to confront the failings of his upbringing, his culture. He is exposed to the pettiness and land grabs of the rich and powerful. In order to survive, Abbey travels the world, always moving forward, attempting to stay ahead of his ghostly tormentor. He learns that he can never slow down, never settle. Its mesmerising watching the narrative unfold. This is a man doing everything he can to escape what seems to be inevitable. At some point his curse will catch up with him and someone Abbey loves will die. In many respects, the novel becomes a character study of a man driven by his conflicting emotions. Abbey’s internal journey, which is just as riveting as his physical travels, explores his deep regret. This all sounds terribly downbeat, but I assure you that it’s not. There are moments that feel genuinely life affirming. Hope, and the prospect of redemption, are just as powerful a motivating force as self-pity and guilt. There is that old saying that the truth sets you free. North’s writing suggests otherwise. Ultimate truth can be a prison, especially when the vast majority of people would rather not know. Most of us are quite happy with our own version of the truth. It is the bedrock we use as the basis for entire existence. Somewhere, in the deep, dark recesses of our mind there is an awareness that we’re spinning context to fit our worldview but we all still do it. I’m struck once again by how North’s writing so elegantly picks apart the human condition. We’re all a conflicted hodge podge of good and bad, dark and light. Abbey’s story and his burden promote introspection at every level. Could I even cope with such an all-encompassing view of humanity? At first glance, the prospect of knowing the truth of human hearts might appeal but I don’t think that would last. Too many people live quite comfortably in their own truths. A hard dose of reality may be too much to bear. Perhaps that is ultimately what the author is trying to teach us. We do need to embrace the truth, however painful it can be, it’s the only way we can evolve. As an aside, why aren’t the BBC, Netflix or Amazon not adapting this for the screen right now? Rather than a reboot, a reimagining or a sequel I’d much rather see something blisteringly original like this. Just a suggestion in case you are listening out there TV powers-that-be. Look, I know I’m gushing a little* but it cheers my heart when I discover fiction that challenges me, that makes me question how I view my place in the world. Claire North’s writing consistently provokes such a response and I remain a little in awe because of it. The themes explored are timeless. In these days of political misinformation, spin, fake news and outright lies, the need for untarnished truth feels like it is more important than ever. *Ok, a lot.

  21. 5 out of 5

    John Rennie

    I enjoyed this book, but I think it is a book that will divide opinion and some people won't like it at all. So what I'm going to try to do here is help you decide whether to buy it by explaining why you may or may not like it. This isn't a plot driven book. The story is rather slight and meandering and in the end nothing much happens. The point of the book is for Claire North to explore the inhumanity of humans to other humans and how we justify it to ourselves. In this respect it feels much I enjoyed this book, but I think it is a book that will divide opinion and some people won't like it at all. So what I'm going to try to do here is help you decide whether to buy it by explaining why you may or may not like it. This isn't a plot driven book. The story is rather slight and meandering and in the end nothing much happens. The point of the book is for Claire North to explore the inhumanity of humans to other humans and how we justify it to ourselves. In this respect it feels much like her earlier book The End of the Day, which I also liked. William Abbey is an observer of humanity in much the same way that Charlie is in The End of the Day. Most of the action is set in the time the Sun never set on the British Empire, and it explores the morality of the people involved and finds them wanting. This is done slowly and steadily, rather than with lots of show, and this approach builds a tension that I found wonderful. This was one of those books I picked up whenever I had a spare moment. But the writing style means the plot is glacially slow, and if you don't get hooked by the atmosphere I suspect you're going to be bored rigid. This is a long book and if it doesn't grab you it will quickly become an ordeal not a pleasure. Even I found myself occasionally skipping where I felt North was taking too long to say too little - this is largely the reason I gave the book four stars rather than five. But if, thus warned, you decide to read this I think you'll find a lot to chew on. I found myself thinking about the book and the issues it raises over and over, which I find is usually that case when a book has really interested me.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Ekmef

    This book really has the same atmosphere as 'the 15 lives of Harry August'. It uses one 'magical' aspect to show the complexities of the world. So this is almost not a novel but rather a lots of philosophical musings on the nature of knowledge and truth. Sometimes the plot creeps through and you can't put it away anymore, sometimes you're mesmerized by the wisdom within the main character's rambles. This book is an experience - don't try to think to hard about whether it would actually make This book really has the same atmosphere as 'the 15 lives of Harry August'. It uses one 'magical' aspect to show the complexities of the world. So this is almost not a novel but rather a lots of philosophical musings on the nature of knowledge and truth. Sometimes the plot creeps through and you can't put it away anymore, sometimes you're mesmerized by the wisdom within the main character's rambles. This book is an experience - don't try to think to hard about whether it would actually make sense in real life :).

  23. 5 out of 5

    Claire

    William Abbey is a white man living in Victorian Era South Africa. A South Africa that is torn apart by white colonists and he's blind to the suffering surrounding him from the native Africans. Until he is cursed to see the truth in everyone's heart. The curse takes the shape of a boy who he watched on the sidelines as a mob burned him. Whenever that shadow of the boy reunites with him, someone he loves dies. So William Abbey has to run. All the time. This leads to him to become a spy for William Abbey is a white man living in Victorian Era South Africa. A South Africa that is torn apart by white colonists and he's blind to the suffering surrounding him from the native Africans. Until he is cursed to see the truth in everyone's heart. The curse takes the shape of a boy who he watched on the sidelines as a mob burned him. Whenever that shadow of the boy reunites with him, someone he loves dies. So William Abbey has to run. All the time. This leads to him to become a spy for England. A selfish one who is not good at his job. I love this book. I love that William Abbey starts being blind to other people's problems and ends up having a deep understanding for people. Because we also find out through him the stories of people surrounding him, the world feels alive with three-dimensional people. There is no all knowing person because everyone is scared of something. It's interesting when he meets people with the same curse as he and their conversations are only through using their powers. My one problem is that there are times when it did slow a bit. But when the pacing picks up then I had trouble putting down the book.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Kat Hooper

    Will review at www.fantasyliterature.com.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Elaine

    I loved The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, and I thought the writing in this book was excellent, but boy, it was a lot of talking... Not dialogue so much. Just talking.

  26. 4 out of 5

    David Harris

    I'm grateful to Orbit for a free advance reading copy of The Pursuit of William Abbey to read as part of the book's blogtour. A new book by Claire North is always a very special event in my reading calendar, and William Abbey didn't disappoint. In something of the same vein as the Flying Dutchman, this is a tale of a man cursed after an act of selfishness. William Abbey is a mediocre doctor in 19th century Africa, banished to the colonies after falling for the wrong girl. The sin that curses him I'm grateful to Orbit for a free advance reading copy of The Pursuit of William Abbey to read as part of the book's blogtour. A new book by Claire North is always a very special event in my reading calendar, and William Abbey didn't disappoint. In something of the same vein as the Flying Dutchman, this is a tale of a man cursed after an act of selfishness. William Abbey is a mediocre doctor in 19th century Africa, banished to the colonies after falling for the wrong girl. The sin that curses him is that, when he comes face to face with the lawless racket that is Empire, he is indifferent to an act of savagery. No more and no less indifferent than countless others - but it's Abbey who doesn't act at a particular moment when a boy, Langa, is lynched, Abbey who refuses to help him as he lies dying, and Abbey who Langa's mother curses. I took him as emblematic, perhaps, of the "nothing to do with me" attitude to colonialism and historical crimes. Under the curse, Abbey suffers a strange, dual fate: everyone he loves is doomed to a terrible death, unless he outruns Langa's spirit. As the spirit comes closer, Abbey is able to read the truths in men's (and women's) hearts. When Langa is really close, Abbey can't help but proclaim those truths. When Langa reaches him, someone dies. So the endless chase begins. Langa is not quick, but he is relentless, crossing land and sea, mountain and desert. Abbey has no special resources save his ability to discern truths - but in a fevered world, building up to the Great War, this may be a sought after skill. Or it may be one that will just get William Abbey into an even worse heap of trouble. Langa comes, he comes... I loved this story. It is not a pleasant read: North doesn't spare us the realities of colonialism or war, or indeed of the grinding, chaotic lives of the poor (for example, the brutalities of the British in India or the hatreds and prejudices that set new immigrants to the USA against each other, instead of the system that keeps them all poor). More prosaically, Abbey isn't a sympathetic character or one it's easy to spend time in the head of. And Abbey's ability - his curse - perhaps his blessing - allows him, requires him, to tap into streams of truth variously banal, tragic, desperate and revealing. It is, if you will, an all-areas tour of 19th century politics and society. And that means, of course, our politics and society because we are not different people now, are we? Here are revolutionaries and spies. Thieves and shamans. The poor and the very, very rich. Lovers and blackmailers. Ordinary people clinging on, and people whose way of life is being erased. North's imagination, demonstrated in her peopling of the book, is simply astounding as is her gradual, layer-by-layer portrayal of Abbey himself - presenting not only the naive young man who travels to Africa to be cursed, but the older, cynical operator after decades on the run. And, of course, the gradual process that turns one into the other. It's a story, I think, of an awakening morality, a gathering empathy as Abbey goes from despair and a desire to be "cured" of his shadow - to "apologise", be "forgiven" and receive some kind of proxy absolution - to a deep appreciation of the ways of the world and a recognition of his part in it, not only in the death of Langa but in the system that produced that death. Meeting other bearers of the same terrible burden, he understands that some see it as a a blessing and actually seek it out. The morality here is complex. North wants to show, I think, that merely feeling shame, regret, horror, at atrocity is not enough. Distancing oneself from vile events is not enough. (If Twitter had been invented in Abbey's time, I suspect his early travels would have been accompanied by a #NotAllEnglishmen hashtag...) But the search for an alternative is hard. Early on, Abbey hooks up with those who may be able to explain his condition, even cure it. But Langa still comes. Attempts to promote justice and the cause of the "people" don't go far. Sidetracking into personal revenge leads Abbey to the situation framed by the opening of the book, with him as a doctor in the First World War, meeting Sister Ellis, a young nurse at a field hospital - and it's her who, perhaps, brings some moral sense back to Abbey. Ellis herself is fascinating, a woman of humble origins who, like Abbey, fell for the wrong person and who's basically conned her way into the aristocratic club of the Nightingale nurses. Her background gives her, perhaps, a perspective that Abbey - for all his truth telling - has missed. But will it be enough to save him (whatever that means)? This is a blistering book, a magnificent read, a book with real moral heart, burning with anger and freighted with inconvenient truths. It's a book that will continue to burn away in your mind long after you finish it, that will follow you, steadily, relentlessly, even if you try to leave it behind. Very, very strongly recommended, and up there with North's best writing.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Joe Jones

    Claire North is one of those authors who immediately jumps to the top of my tbr pile. This one did not disappoint. Horror, Thriller, Romance with exquisite writing and an original plot. I could not have asked for more.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Lucy

    Exquisite language, historical detail and an unusual conundrum involving curses, tormenting shadows, the secrets brought to light, and the power of love. From the Fantasy award-winning author of the critically acclaimed 'The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August' (2014)

  29. 4 out of 5

    Mya Alexice

    There is the truth we tell ourselves, [...] and then there is the reality of the world as it is, and that is always harder to see. I enjoyed Claire North's earlier book The Sudden Appearance of Hope , though felt it fall into the same trap as this one for me. Amazing idea, but an execution that just wasn't 5 stars for me. The Pursuit of William Abbey follows a 19th-century British man cursed because he witnessed a lynching of a young Black boy and did nothing to stop it. As the ghost of the There is the truth we tell ourselves, [...] and then there is the reality of the world as it is, and that is always harder to see. I enjoyed Claire North's earlier book The Sudden Appearance of Hope , though felt it fall into the same trap as this one for me. Amazing idea, but an execution that just wasn't 5 stars for me. The Pursuit of William Abbey follows a 19th-century British man cursed because he witnessed a lynching of a young Black boy and did nothing to stop it. As the ghost of the murdered boy, Langa, follows him, he kills anyone the man (William Abbey) loves. He also allows Abbey to hear the unfiltered truth of anyone near me. So, a blessing and a curse, with some complications explained in further in the novel. The writing style is refined and elegant, and the characters interesting -- I think my main issue is that this book is just LONG. the 450+ pages felt closer to 600 for me, so if you need a fast-paced read this might not be for you. However, if you like that literary, heavy expository style, you'll probably really enjoy this. P.S. Thought its commentary on truth was particularly interesting, critical, and insightful -- much needed in the sort of "post-truth" world we're in right now.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Yvonne (It's All About Books)

    Finished reading: November 13th 2019 "And whatever you love most is the thing the shadow kills. That is the first lesson of the curse that was laid upon me." *** A copy of this book was kindly provided to me by Netgalley and Orbit Books in exchange for an honest review. Thank you! *** (view spoiler)[ As soon as I started reading the blurb,The Pursuit Of William Abbeystarted ticking all the right boxes for me. A historical and international setting: check. A shocking event that changes the life Finished reading: November 13th 2019 "And whatever you love most is the thing the shadow kills. That is the first lesson of the curse that was laid upon me." *** A copy of this book was kindly provided to me by Netgalley and Orbit Books in exchange for an honest review. Thank you! *** (view spoiler)[ As soon as I started reading the blurb, The Pursuit Of William Abbey started ticking all the right boxes for me. A historical and international setting: check. A shocking event that changes the life of the main character forever: check. A curse and everything it entails: check. The promise of a lot of movement: check. That feeling of impending doom: check. Oh yes, the blurb alone already fully convinced me I was going to be in for a VERY interesting ride. And now I've had the chance to read The Pursuit Of William Abbey, I can state that this story has one of the most compelling and captivating premises I've had the chance to encounter this year. There are quite a few different elements I loved in The Pursuit Of William Abbey. I'm struggling a bit to decide where to start, but I guess we'll keep it simple and return to the core of this story. And there is just no way to describe the plot without calling the curse the key stone on which the rest of the story is build. I don't want to give away too much, but as you might have guessed from reading the blurb, the main character William Abbey is cursed in the beginning of this story and his life changes forever after that. In the rest of the story, this curse is omnipresent and will determine every movement and even thought of William Abbey and those close to him. The curse gives The Pursuit Of William Abbey a touch of the mystical and what I personally would call magical realism. Why? This story isn't full blown fantasy; instead it's rather a work of literary fiction with a historical setting and a blurred line between the surreal and reality. This mix of genres is most fascinating and while it might not be for everyone, (historical) fiction fans will find it probably very easy to warm up to this story. Another thing that stands out in The Pursuit Of William Abbey is both the international setting and diversity of different countries, local customs and politics incorporated into the plot. The nature of the curse alone forces William Abbey to travel a lot, and as the story develops he will have more than one reason to travel the globe. The many many references to different countries, local events and culture definitely made my travel heart happy and gives this story a complex, multifaceted and global feel. From Europe to Asia to Africa to the US; William Abbey never stops and as a consequence we never stop either. The structure of the plot is also very intriguing. Basically, we start at the end, set in 1917, and then slowly learn more about the events in 1884 and the years after as William Abbey narrates his story through flashbacks. This way, his motivation for his actions in 1917 France are not clear for a long time, and this technique definitely helps you stay invested as you try to find all the answers. There are also quite a few characters in play, and this might be a bit of a juggle in the beginning, but my advice would be to just take your time with this story... This won't be too difficult, as the pace in The Pursuit Of William Abbey is surprisingly slow in general despite the many different settings, events and quite some action. Part of this slower pace can be explained through the detailed descriptions that help this story come alive... If you are a fan of elaborate and thorough descriptions, you will definitely be in for a treat. The slower pace in The Pursuit Of William Abbey can also be explained through the extensive character development, and the fact that this book can be considered a mainly character driven story. While the different international settings and events of course play a role, I felt the main focus was on William Abbey, the other key characters and their development. A lot of thought was put in both their descriptions and growth over time. It was also fascinating to see the different attitudes towards and reactions to the curse. The characters helped build the bridge that connects the surreal with the more worldly elements... And they are definitely the reason why this mix of different genres works so well. I don't want to talk too much about the plot itself and the things that happen to William Abbey to avoid spoiling the fun of discovering it all on your own... But I can say this about The Pursuit Of William Abbey in general: if you are a fan of slower character driven (historical) fiction, don't mind a hint of magical realism and love a multilayered international plot, you should definitely add this fascinating story to your wishlist. (hide spoiler)] P.S. Find more of my reviews here.

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