On the Proper Use of Stars has been sitting on my shelf for two years and I was really excited when I finally was able to pick it up and read it. You see, I have been intrigued by the Franklin Expedition for quite some time.
Anyway, this is a fun read that tells the story of the expedition from the alternate points of view of Franklin’s first officer and captain of the Terror, Jim Crozier and Lady Jane, Franklin’s wife.
It’s an interesting mix of perspectives: One describing the ships crew’s life and their appreciation of Franklin. The other describing Franklin’s personal life. The result is that we get a pretty good idea of all three characters, as well as detailed descriptions of the trip, the politics around it, the geographical knowledge (or lack of) and lot of fun historical bits – many of which are about tea:
I must warn you, Lady Jane, this is extremely strong.
People have told me that it sometimes causes palpitations in ladies, and therefore is more appropriate for gentlemen, whose tastes it matches more closely.”
Lady Jane was no longer listening. Eyes closed, she was savouring the exquisite infusion that scarcely pricked her tongue and warmed her throat delightfully.
“Dear Mr. Thompson, I should like to purchase your entire stock.”
Yup. They are talking about tea. Chai to be precise. Not for the first time, either. Twinings got a bit of a roasting a couple of pages ago.
[About Lady Jane’s tea broker] “It was said that he turned down more clients than he deigned to accept and that among the rejected – obviously displeased – were certain members of the royal family, condemned to sip the dull blends of Mister Twinings that had plagued their mothers and grandmothers before them.”
Fortier managed to create a well researched story with lots of atmosphere, and lots of irony, and fun. The only problem I had, and this is entirely my own issue with historical fiction, is that for me really great historical fiction does not read like neither fiction nor non-fiction. There is a fine balance that makes me want to accept what is written without wanting to ask for sources or without questioning whether something really happened.
On the Proper Use of Stars did not quite manage this. Again, this is not necessarily a fault in the book, but probably more to do with my expectations.