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Voyage of Midnight    by Michele Torrey order for
Voyage of Midnight
by Michele Torrey
Order:  USA  Can
Knopf, 2006 (2006)
* * *   Reviewed by J. A. Kaszuba Locke

Voyage of Midnight is a new installment in Michele Torrey's Chronicles of Courage. Philip Arthur Higgins' story begins in 1811, telling of his journey into maturity, while grasping the realities of inhumanity, and describing the choices he faces. It is a tale for the strong-minded, as the author writes explicitly of the oppression and horrors of human bondage.

Philip is orphaned at the age of four. The parish in Magford, England places him in the smelly, moldy workhouse, where he works eighteen-hour days, suffering inhumane cruelties under Master Crumb. Philip prays, 'Oh, Father in Heaven ... Does nobody love me?' When Philip is hospitalized after an injury, Uncle Isaac Smythe - a prosperous captain with his own ship - visits, offers to provide for Philip's welfare, and promises to return. As Philip reaches his twelfth year, the parish authorities release him with a sealed letter addressed to his Uncle. 'To his profound relief and joy', arrangements are made for Philip to board ship out of Liverpool en route to his uncle's residence in New Orleans. When he arrives at the wharf, his uncle nowhere in sight, Philip opens the envelope, to find that his uncle wasn't informed of his coming. Taken in by Mr. and Mrs. Gallagher, whose nephew died at sea, Philip is treated as a son, and surrounded by love and care, while being trained in their chemist shop, and attending school. Over the next few years, the Gallaghers help Philip search for his uncle. Then, while delivering a prescription, Philip walks by a tavern and sees his uncle inside.

Armed with a knowledge of medicinal healing, Philip joins his uncle on board the Formidable, as a Surgeon's Mate amidst an unsavory, shifty crew. Philip is taught navigation techniques, with promises of a wealthy, secure future ahead. The Formidable sails to Cuba where Uncle barters for goods and supplies, and Philip is given a gift - a slave boy named Pea Soup. It is then that Philip is told of his uncle's intended destination, Africa, and the reason - the slave trade. Believing uncle's sincerity that they are doing the Africans a favor, and serving 'the natural order of things', by taking them to civilized territory, Philip assists in branding hundreds of black women, men, and children with a hot, oiled iron. He discloses, 'Truthfully, I'd never given slavery much thought (being much too busy with my own life), only believing that rich people owned slaves, while poor people didn't.' As sanitary conditions in the hold become deplorable, Philip witnesses his uncle throwing a newborn into the sea. Then the captain, crew, and cargo are blinded from ophthalmia, including Philip - but his is only temporary. He and Pea Soup plot to return the human cargo to Africa.

Michele Torrey's words flow like a gentle stream - both appealing and appalling words, revealing moral and immoral individuals, and social injustice. She portrays a heart-wrenching, realistic account of the slave trade, and a lad growing into manhood, while deciding for himself the 'true meaning of family, freedom, and humanity'. Published internationally, Torrey delivers powerful messages in her works of nautical fiction, which I highly recommend to any and all who appreciate solid, insightful writing.

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