Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Havelock Press
Pub. Date: July 31, 2009
Set in early 19th century England, “The Adventures of Toby Wey” is a historical adventure novel written with a strong dose of good cheer. The narrative swings back and forth between the thrilling and the poignant. Toby’s story, though distinctly English, often evokes that of Huckleberry Finn or Indiana Jones. As he comes of age, he is entangled in real historical events. The book could have been labeled as YA, but everyone should read it. This senior citizen reviewer found the novel to be an exciting page-turner. Only after I finished and reflected on it did I realize how much history I’d absorbed while immersed in the adventure. Considering the breadth of Gavin Scott’s novels and screenwriting credits, it should have come as no surprise.
Overcoming abject poverty and unfair discrimination by the ruling class is the focus of the book. When “Napoleon was at the height of his power, Beethoven was going deaf, and James Madison was annexing Florida for the United States” Toby is born into a poor farm life. As a boy, Toby could be found looking after his younger siblings while his parents work in the fields. This is right around when Mary Shelly introduces the world to her monster. Here, the author hammers in the egotistical nature of leaders. Toby’s father, facing the inability to feed his family, asks the local squire if his cows can use common land for grazing. If a lord hadn’t been present to watch the interaction, he probably would have agreed. Alas, the squire wants a shot at parliament, and so exercises severe austerity to impress the lord. Toby’s father goes on to be imprisoned, where he dies of disease. Toby loses his mother soon after and is separated from his siblings.
In the first of many moves, Toby is taken in by two elderly sisters who hire him as their servant. Despite his sorrow, Toby exhibits a thirst for knowledge and the aptitude for changing something bad into something wonderful, a theme that becomes prevalent throughout the book. On his time off, he is tutored in history at no cost by a bored professor who is thrilled to encounter such a bright mind. On campus, a new world opens up to Toby. He makes a friend and protects him from bullies. To ensure that you fall in love with his protagonist (if you haven’t already), the author makes it abundantly evident that Toby is as kind as he is gifted. In the interim, the sisters and Toby read the bible. When a bishop comes to visit the sisters, they invite him to hear Toby interpret the bible. Scott weaves comedy tightly into the angst of such confrontations. The bishop is not impressed. He roars, “Young Master Wey is not being taught to regard the scriptures as the Holy Word of God…He is being taught to see them as so much history…What is he being educated for?.. he is a viper…he is intelligent…and he is dangerous.” I laughed aloud as Toby becomes homeless again.
At fourteen, Toby joins a carnival and learns a different sort of education. It is here where he gets his first kiss from a carnie girl while accidentally getting involved with “the most notorious British criminal at the time, the hideously maimed, psychotically violent Dog-Face Jack Shepherd.” Before jumping into his next life, he also outwits the “Notorious Chess-Playing Mechanical Turk.” There is no shortage of entertaining vignettes to choose from. None of them bored me. Our hero participates in the construction of Stockton and Darlington’s first public railway to use steam locomotives. The reader cannot help but be impressed by the details included in the story explaining the steam engine’s construction. In Toby’s last escapade, I was at the edge of my seat to learn if he succeeds in rescuing his unfairly imprisoned brother. Scott even laces his Dickens-like tale with Charles Dickens himself. The entire time you’re reading this adventure novel, which is actually a literary novel in disguise, you’ll be laughing, musing, and wanting another Toby adventure—almost four hundred pages were not enough.
The Adventures of Toby Wey by Gavin Scott: https://amzn.to/3bygm1x
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