Into the World is an historical adventure on the high seas with great characters and an interesting plot. From the beginning of the novel, when Marie-Louise Girardin brands herself and her infant son before leaving him to the fate of an orphan and fleeing France, we are drawn into her story. What could drive a woman to do such a thing?
Marie-Louise Girardin transforms into Louis Girardin and becomes a steward on the Recherche, one of two vessels under the command of The General, Admiral Bruni d’Entrecasteaux, who has been tasked by King Louis XVI to discover what happened to the La Perouse expedition to the South Pacific, whose ships have failed to return to France. But it is 1791, and the revolution is in full swing – and the d’Entrecasteaux expedition has many inner conflicts – with both loyalists and revolutionaries on the Recherche and on her sister ship the Esperance. Adding to the tension on board, are the arguments between those who see their priority as finding the remnants of the La Perouse expedition, those who see it as mapping coasts around Van Dieman’s Land and New Holland, and those naturalists on board who see it as discovering new plants and animals.
Marie-Louise, who has played a role in the revolution, treads a cautious path between the various opposing groups, managing to keep onside with everyone apart from the sinister Raoul, who seems to know more about ‘Louis’ than he should. There are a number of potential romantic involvements on board, especially the Captain of the Esperance, Huon de Kermadec – Kermadec and The General are the only two on the expedition who know that Louis is really Marie-Louise.
The expedition travels for two years, visiting exotic ports, enduring perilous periods with little food and fresh water (many chapter headings are maritime location co-ordinates), and landing on some of the South Pacific islands. The story flows well, and Marie-Louise’ back story is smoothly woven into the narrative. There is a nice balance between the sensibilities of the time and the growing awareness of the injustices that underpin exploration and colonisation. Marie-Louise has nice character development through the story, realising that revolutionary progress does not always mean a better deal for women, and finding an inner strength and resiliance which she didn’t know she had. Although there are romantic elements to the story, there is a nice gritty realism to the outcomes of many of the storylines – not surprisingly, as it is based on a true story. A good solid debut novel.