by Margaret Gilbert
Storm Clouds Over Levuka is set in a tumultuous time in Fiji’s history.
It is 1868 and recently-weds Charlotte and Richard Swann have just arrived in Levuka, Fiji’s old capital, full of excitement for their new life there. Tragically, in a case of mistaken identity, Richard is killed on their first day ashore. Kind British settlers care for Charlotte and she makes friends and finds work.
Although Charlotte and Richard were enchanted by the seascapes that they sailed through to reach Levuka harbour, we soon discover that the town is far from an island paradise. There are some very unscrupulous types among the colonial plantation owners and businesspeople in the town and at the same time there is enormous unrest among the Fijians themselves as they strive for better working conditions on the plantations and for greater political independence.
Storm Clouds Over Levuka follows Charlotte’s adjustment to life on the island. She is supported by caring people, settlers and Fijians, and through her friends and workmates we learn much of the difficulties and dangers for law-abiding settlers in those unruly times in Levuka. The undercurrent of vicious warfare among the island tribes highlights the precariousness of the settlers’ existence.
Margaret Gilbert’s ancestors settled in Fiji in the 1860s and she was born there. Her knowledge of the country’s history and its luxuriant vegetation bring Storm Clouds Over Levuka to life. While the book is peopled with many fictitious characters, the warlord Ratu Seru Cakobau, self-proclaimed King of United Fiji in 1871 and the Tongan leader Eneli (or Enele) Ma’afu (born Tonga 1816, died Fiji 1881) add authenticity to the violent events that unfold as Charlotte finds love and happiness again.
Given the timeframe of Storm Clouds Over Levuka it is easy to imagine that, in writing this historical romance, Gilbert has drawn on stories from her own family’s history. In a broader sense, the book appears well-researched and impartial in its telling of Levuka’s history.
Storm Clouds Over Levuka whetted my appetite to learn more about events in the Pacific in a time running parallel to when New Zealand was also being settled by Europeans.
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Author: Margaret Gilbert
Publisher: Copy Press Books