Cover Image: The Sugar Merchant

The Sugar Merchant

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Member Reviews

The book follows the fortunes of an orphan raised by monks in the 11th century and  his journeys across Europe to North Africa to develop trading links as well as a bit of spying on the way. The historical aspects of the Muslim world as then were insightful and well-researched as were the attitudes of Jews, Muslims and Christians. Not so very different from today at times.- suspicious of the unknown, wary of change. There's a lot to pick up. Sometimes the words used for towns or commodities felt a bit contrived but mostly translatable and then I found a glossary when I'd got to the end. Thanks to NetGalley and New Generation Publishing for an advance copy in exchange for my honest review.
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This novel details the adventures of Thomas Woodward, who gets adopted by a group of monks, then sets off as a merchant, when he is older, and a spy for the Catholic church. I enjoyed this book, and did not find the wealth of historical information offputting at all. Rather, it added to the character of the book, speaking of such daily life matters as the coinage, and the wool that a person could buy, from the market. A good read.
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James Hutson-Wiley’s debut novel, “The Sugar Merchant,” gives readers a unique view into 11th-century trade and commerce. This tale chronicles Thomas Woodward, a young eight-year-old who is orphaned after a raid and rescued by a Benedictine monk from the Abbey of Eynsham. For the next 12 years, Thomas is trained by the monks before being sent on a mission to develop commerce in the Muslim world and act as a spy for the Catholic Church. Thomas befriends a savvy Muslim merchant, Assad, and an equally shrewd Jewish businessman, Jusuf, and they journey together to introduce Europe to a new commodity – sugar. Along the way, the three merchants encounter political unrest and greedy enemies while Thomas falls in love with Zahra, a Muslim girl. You’ll enjoy Thomas’s adventures in many different lands as he trades sugar and builds relationships with merchants of different faiths and cultures. 

Hutson-Wiley’s dedication to the message within this story becomes obvious as readers immerse themselves in his 11th-century world; it’s meticulously researched, and no detail is left unmentioned. While it may bog down the story in some parts, it adds to the success of the novel. Rarely does a book written in this time period deal with commerce, as knights and bloody crusades are portrayed as seemingly more exciting to read. Lovers of historical fiction would be missing a great deal if they didn’t add this well-written novel to their reading list. The simple and unassuming cover are no indication of the complexity and depth of knowledge held with in the pages. 

Paramount to Hutson-Wiley’s success is his ability to blend medieval historical fiction with an adventure featuring espionage with its trademark twists and turns. The change of pace allows readers to regroup and refocus after being singularly focussed on business. It is interesting to watch Thomas grow as a man and apply the principles he’s learned from the monks. He becomes an astute businessman who eagerly learns from his mistakes and uses them to further his expertise. Through Thomas, readers gain insight into personal struggles brought on by human growth, knowledge and interacting within different and distinct cultures. What we come to realize is that we face many of the same challenges today and our success, like Thomas’s, comes from our inner voice of reason as well as our education, both formal and informal. The impediments to our growth are the same as those Thomas faces, the consequences of poor decisions. What a wonderful glimpse into a rarely seen instant in time – Europe immediately before the Crusades. 

Thank you to James Hutson-Wiley, New Generation Publishing and NetGalley for the advance copy in exchange for an honest review.
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