Self-published Nova Scotian author Matthew de Lacy Davidson has released his first novel Precept, and it is firmly in the historical fiction genre. I particularly enjoy these types of novels, for one learns something, if not of the actual event, then about the personages themselves. Precept is no exception. The 19th-century historical figure of Frederick Douglass, a former slave and abolitionist, has escaped to Ireland to avoid recapture and certain death. He is a gifted orator and author and young Nathan Whyte’s father (a printer who wishes to publish the UK version of Mr. Douglass’ book) has booked him on a speaking tour of Ireland. This is also the time of The Great Hunger when millions of Irish died of starvation (due to the potato blight) or took their chances of survival in the New World.
The story is told through the eyes of Nathan, who is a young boy when he first meets Mr. Douglass, and he continues with his life story after Mr. Douglass leaves Ireland. In the meantime, an attachment forms between the two and Nathan sees a side of the world that was heretofore unknown to him. Mr. Davidson borrows from Mr. Douglass’ actual lectures and adds his own fiction to create a fascinating narrative that was hard to put down. In addition, the author writes in the style of 19th-century authors (Edgar Allan Poe immediately came to mind) in that he uses conversational and narrative styles that befit the time. Here’s an excerpt of the first introductory paragraphs:
One of the dearest wishes of my youth was that I might have grown up one day to have an arresting and resonant voice; fully capable of touching the inner reaches of the heart. One which might inspire — nay, demand others to do great deeds. Alas, it was not to be – as any expertise which I may (or may not) be said to have, would be as solely within the realm of the written word. This ability, in turn, lead me down a different path. Having talked my way into an apprenticeship at a relatively late point in my life, I eventually wound up working for myself. And in doing so, I created a better existence than ever could have been imagined in my early days (albeit, spent amongst the company of my fellow convicts).
The reason for this most elusive of ambitions came about directly as the result of my most cherished contact with a positively remarkable gentleman. Though truly a fish out of water, his abilities to adapt and transform, way beyond the promise of his own baleful and harrowing childhood and early life, left me agape, aghast, and astonished. And perhaps not a little envious, as well.
To this day, when I think about those horrifying stories that he told, and the spectacular and incisive arguments which he unflinchingly unleashed upon his unsuspecting audiences, I find it almost inconceivable that any human being might find the wherewithal, not to mention the fortitude of spirit, to not just survive the Holocaust into which he was conceived and brought up; but that such a person might spring forth, almost Athena-like — fully-formed — and emerge suddenly and dramatically upon the world stage as a great genius of oratory — possessed of a wisdom of Aristotelian proportions – leaving only self-reflection and mindfulness in his wake – to those of receptive heart.
Later after meeting Frederick Douglass, conversing with him and hearing his speeches, something is stirred within the young man, who is bored with school and yearns for something more:
“…walking back from school provided little respite from life’s other more noticeable miseries and drudgeries – there being a constant barrage of mere stumps of men – and women in rags whose babies – most obviously – were slowly dying of privation and malnutrition. Something inside me was being affected by what I saw. Relatively unconscious of it as I was, a burgeoning was taking place.”
I thoroughly enjoyed reading Precept, once again demonstrating that self-published authors are not to be summarily dismissed as not read-worthy. The author includes some notes on historical accuracy at the end of the book along with links to source materials. I was quite impressed by Precept and I encourage anyone with a keen interest in historical fiction to consider reading it. Matthew de Lacey Davidson has also published poetry, as well as a book of short stories, Roses in December: Haunting and Macabre Tales. He is an accomplished musician and composer as well.
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