The Freedom Merchants by Sherryl Jordan, Scholastic NZ
I’ve just read two historical stories by NZ authors - one after the other - and relished the refreshing change in genre and setting, as well as enjoying both books in their own right. The first was Murder at Mykenai by Catherine Mayo, and the second is this title by one of our most well-known and experienced authors. Almost by accident Sherryl discovered information about the Barbary Coast white-slave trade (which took place between 1500 and 1800) and the horror of the trade stayed with her - prompting her to write this fascinating and moving story.
It is 1615 - and the young hero, Liam, lives in a small Irish coastal village. His first encounter with Muslim slave-trading pirates results in an unusual friendship being set up - but his second encounter is heart-breaking. His brother and a dozen other people from his village are kidnapped. Liam eventually manages to accompany some Christian monks to the Barbary Coast in the hope of buying the villagers back. But he and his fellow travellers are also captured and sold as slaves by the pirates - and all seems lost. But is it??
This is a riveting story - genuine read-under-the-blanket stuff. The author has beautifully captured Liam’s bravery and determination, together with the strong but gentle faith of the monks. But the most vivid part of the story - and the most harrowing - is the description of the tortured lives of the white slaves. In the author’s Note at the end Sherryl says that over a million white Christians were enslaved to Muslim masters during the course of the trade.
I’m recommending this for mature and capable readers of about 11 to 14 years. Boys in particular will be absorbed by it, but girls will also find it a stimulating read. Teachers’ Notes are available at Scholastic’s website.
ISBN 978 1 77543 146 6 $19.50 Pb
Reviewed by Lorraine Orman