No Safe Anchorage – Liz MacRae Shaw

On the day that Tom Masters learns of the death of a friend and fellow naval officer, he also has a passing encounter with a stranger, a beautiful young woman whose face he only glimpses before she disappears.

Nobody can – or is willing to – tell Tom who this person is, so he jumps ship and sets off to find her. It’s a lifetime’s journey that will take him from the Isle of Skye to Canada and beyond.

Set between 1854 and 1891, Liz MacRae Shaw’s novel is expertly researched and deftly described, twisting and turning through not only the years, but the culture, the attitudes, and the expectations of the time. It’s easy for a historical novel to become heavy-handed – a history book with a story woven through it – but No Safe Anchorage is foremost an old-fashioned (that’s a compliment!) story: an adventurous quest full of conflict and obstacles and life-changing relationships.

Tom’s own family life is complex. Life on the run as a naval deserter is complex. The family he carves out for himself in Cape Breton is complex – but ultimately fulfilling. He takes on the role of father-figure, of mentor, and in his new career as a photographer, he meets his soulmate, Silent Owl.

No Safe Anchorage is not the novel I expected. Yes, I fell straight into the trap of judging a book by its cover, and it’s probably for that reason that I took a while to settle in to it. There are a lot of characters, in a lot of different places, to keep track of, as well as a few very convenient meetings. However, stranger things happen at sea, as the saying goes…

I didn’t much take to Tom, although I found him interesting. He has his own reason for keeping his distance from everyone, and so I felt I never really got to know him – which is very apt, because it takes him his whole lifetime to get to know himself.

For me, the novel really came alive once Tom arrived in Cape Breton and set up his first real home there. I flew through this half of the story – still enjoying the landscape – and appreciating the treatment of issues such as race, colonialism and sexuality, which too often remain unacknowledged.

No Safe Anchorage is not a sea-faring tale. It’s the exploration of identity, of love and guilt, and of a lifetime’s journey – with a mystery at its core.

Published by Top Hat Books 


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