Alison Manley Reviews Spellbinding Array of Narrative Voices
Last Hummingbird West of Chile
What do you do when you accidentally murder the wrong man? As in: you intend to murder your lecherous, abusive master, the Earl of Amberley, and instead murder the visiting Friar? Oops!
Clovis, a young chambermaid, and Miss Albertson, the housekeeper, resolve to murder the Earl upon seeing his despicable behaviour: prizing and glorifying his stillborn son while ignoring his two living children, Catherine and Andrew. However, the partners in crime accidentally stab the wrong man to death, then manage to hide the evidence. Nineteen years later, Clovis and Miss Albertson see how their mistake has caused further problem’s for the Earl’s children: Catherine is set to marry a conniving, manipulative man who doesn’t love her, and Andrew dramatically rejects his inheritance and runs away.
Thus begins Last Hummingbird West of Chile by Nicholas Ruddock, a round-the-world adventure that follows Andrew after his departure from the family manor and Catherine after her unhappy marriage. Ruddock takes a step back from his main characters and tells their stories through the viewpoints of everyone around them. That includes Clovis and Miss Albertson; Catherine’s husband; Andrew’s eventual wife; Razak the Navigator who crosses paths with Andrew; a white oak tree who was cut down and used to build the ship Andrew runs away on; the island where Andrew winds up shipwrecked; Zephyrax, a hummingbird whose flock travels with Andrew; and many more.
The viewpoints change throughout the story, introducing new characters and lands. Ruddock lets some viewpoints end when they no longer serve the narrative. I loved this method of storytelling. It provides a richer story and the structure itself becomes the narrative.
The novel is also a nod to the epic adventure story, with a glorious if arduous journey across the world and a ragtag team of adventurers. Ruddock further enriches the story with discussions of colonialism, race, slavery, indentured work and gender roles.
There’s a lot happening in this novel but it never feels overwhelming. Ruddock skillfully rotates the multiple viewpoints, never overwhelming us with too many characters at once, and shifts between settings with ease, giving equal colour to each part of the journey.
I was spellbound throughout, eager to know what was going to happen not only to Andrew and Catherine, but the white oak, Zephyrax, the pigs on Jaimia’s island, Alma McWhirter, Andrew’s boss’ wife in Singapore and even the donkey they take up for a short period in Egypt. Each viewpoint, no matter how major the character or how long they stay in focus, had a strong, unique voice and added another layer to the story.
Without a doubt, Last Hummingbird West of Chile was one of the best books I’ve read this year. It was absolutely delightful and I was gripped to the very last line (which came too soon).