Incomparable World by S.I. Martin

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Incomparable World by S.I. Martin

Feb 19, 2021, 4:27 pm

Penguin UK are republishing some Black authored novels including Incomparable World by S.I. Martin (1996) which is about African American ex-soldiers who find themselves in London in the 1780s. I haven't read it (yet) but it would seem to be of interest to this group.

In the years just after the American Revolution, London was the unlikely refuge for thousands of black Americans who had fought for the British in exchange for a promise of freedom. Incomparable World is their story, an unconventional debut novel that follows the adventures of three African Americans who have escaped their master's lash only to find themselves outcast once again-but this time on the harsh streets of London's West End. After the British defeat, Buckram, Georgie George, and William Supple sail to London, preferring to attempt a new life there than face possible recapture and a return to slavery. Penniless, without any prospects for employment, and treated as outsiders by British society, they are forced into a life of hustling and petty crime. Their only hope for escape, Georgie George manages to convince them, is an outrageous robbery that would make them rich beyond their wildest dreams. Full of vivid prose and accurate period detail, Incomparable World is a rich historical thriller that reveals a forgotten chapter of American history.

Feb 21, 2021, 9:40 am

Wow, thanks for this!

Feb 27, 2021, 9:51 am

I'm 25 pages in and can confirm that, as one would expect from this author, the historical detail is impeccable.

Edited: Mar 1, 2021, 7:54 am

Incomparable World by SI Martin is a picaresque novel about African American men in the Georgian London of 1786-7. As one would expect from this author the historical detail is impeccable and he glories in description. The characterisations drew me in immediately and the plot began to move quickly. Martin also manages to evoke the elusive spirit of London, which I can confirm hasn't changed much. The story follows two protagonists, Buckrum and William, whose pasts and futures are bound to third and fourth characters, Neville and Georgie George, all of whom were enslaved African Americans who fought for British loyalists against American revolutionaries and earned military evacuation to London in the early 1780s. One of these men is fading in respectable poverty, one lives more or less successfully on the fringes of society as a professional gambler, one has fallen face first into the underworld and imprisonment, while the last revels in his status as leader of a chaotic organised crime network who cares for nobody but himself and sacrifices the lives of people around him without a second thought. 5*

Warnings for, well, everything really: violence, sex, painful historical truths, and some racial slurs (none gratuitous and only one n-word).

One word spoiler for people who need to know if the ending is happy or sad: happy, surprisingly, and convincingly so.


(One for Discworld fans) 29 May 1786: "This was William's second spring in London, and already he knew the routine. At the lilacs' last blooming the suburban poor would take their demands to the city-centre streets. Draymen, cabbies, builders, clerks and tailors marched shirtless and cudgel-handed from Shoreditch, Ratcliffe, Dalston and Somers Town. William had witnessed riots before: food riots in Boston and Charlestown, but nothing could have prepared him for the spectacle of English urban disturbance."

Lol: "out-of-the-way villages like Tottenham and Camberwell."

Christianity and slavery: "He didn't like church as a rule, especially a church like St Giles where black people formed a sizeable part of the congregation. It reminded him too much of his plantation life, when an overseer would ride down to the shacks on the Lord's day to read to kneeling slaves from the chapter in Ephesians where it beseeched obedience to 'them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling'."

Right to remain, subtle but ouch: "fight for the right to remain where you're unwanted"

Underclass lives: "falling yet again, from nowhere to nowhere else, plummeting through the banked-up years of failure, strewn with the husks of his ever dwindling selves."