Review | Mad Blood Stirring by Simon Mayo

Forgotten history revived. 4/5 stars.

Mad Blood Stirring

Thank you to Transworld and NetGalley for providing me with an e-copy of this book.

The blurb:

1815: The war is over but for the inmates at Dartmoor Prison, peace – like home – is still a long way away.

On the eve of the year 1815, the American sailors of the Eagle finally arrive at Dartmoor prison; bedraggled, exhausted but burning with hope. They’ve only had one thing to sustain them – a snatched whisper overheard along the way.

The war is over.

Joe Hill thought he’d left the war outside these walls but it’s quickly clear that there’s a different type of fight to be had within. The seven prison blocks surrounding him have been segregated; six white and one black. As his voice rings out across the courtyard, announcing the peace, the redcoat guards bristle and the inmates stir. The powder keg was already fixed to blow and Joe has just lit the fuse.

Elizabeth Shortland, wife of the Governor looks down at the swirling crowd from the window of her own personal prison. The peace means the end is near, that she needn’t be here for ever. But suddenly, she cannot bear the thought of leaving.

Inspired by a true story, Mad Blood Stirring tells of a few frantic months in the suffocating atmosphere of a prison awaiting liberation. It is a story of hope and freedom, of loss and suffering. It is a story about how sometimes, in our darkest hour, it can be the most unlikely of things that see us through.

My take:

Mad Blood Stirring is an example of what I love most about historical fiction: an entertaining and immersive way to learn more about a past event, place and people. The story picks up on a bit of “forgotten” history, or not forgotten in my case as the War of 1812 and the associated events at Dartmouth prison were all completely new to me!

The novel is incredibly well-researched and brings the past to life with vivid descriptions, conveying the horrors of confinement, particularly when disease and violence spreads throughout the jail. And, as is often the way with books “based on true events”, the most unbelievable details are precisely those which are true: the racial segregation of the prisoners, the smallpox outbreak, King Dick himself, and the prisoners putting on productions of Shakespeare.

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