The Secret Diaries of Charles Ignatius Sancho

Based on a true story, the utterly gripping and heartbreaking historical novel from the star of Vigil

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Pub Date 6 Oct 2022 | Archive Date 6 Oct 2022

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'Absolutely loving this . . . A great storyteller and a fabulous actor. Well done, sir!' DAVID HAREWOOD, actor and author of Maybe I Don't Belong Here

'Phenomenal! Highly recommended' MALORIE BLACKMAN, author of Noughts and Crosses

'Sings with the words of a man who survives his struggles, and expresses himself through music, language and love' GRETCHEN GERZINA, author, historian and academic

Meet Charles Ignatius Sancho: his extraordinary story, hidden for three hundred years, is about to be told.

I had little right to live, born on a slave ship where my parents both died. But I survived, and indeed, you might say I did more...

It's 1746 and Georgian London is not a safe place for a young Black man, especially one who has escaped slavery. After the twinkling lights in the Fleet Street coffee shops are blown out and the great houses have closed their doors for the night, Sancho must dodge slave catchers and worse. The man he hoped would help - a kindly duke who taught him to write - is dying. Sancho is desperate and utterly alone.

So how does Charles Ignatius Sancho meet the King, write and play highly acclaimed music, become the first Black person to vote in Britain and lead the fight to end slavery?

It's time for him to tell his story, one that begins on a tempestuous Atlantic Ocean, and ends at the very centre of London life. And through it all, he must ask: born amongst death, how much can you achieve in one short life?

From one of Britain's best-loved actors, Paterson Joseph, comes an utterly captivating and haunting historical novel, telling the true story of a Great Black Briton. Fans of Bridgerton, Hamilton, Jessie Burton and The Confessions of Frannie Langton will adore being led into the heart of Black Georgian London.

'An absolutely thrilling, throat-catching wonder of a historical novel. I read with alternating fascination, dread, hilarity, admiration, sorrow and triumph for a full life rendered with such animation, brilliance and understanding. Told in wonderful prose and with dazzling energy and brilliant panache. Hugely recommended.' Stephen Fry

'I so admire Joseph's verbal imagination which seems to effortlessly bridge the gap between our time and Sancho's. In a huge, warm, real voice, Joseph makes us look at a past world from another perspective. It's terrific.' Dame Harriet Walter, acclaimed actor

'Elegant, moving and vital. What Paterson Joseph does - what every writer of historical fiction yearns to do - is make history fall away so that in every moment we are immersed in a lived life. A stunning debut.' Jess Kidd, author of Things in Jars


'Absolutely loving this . . . A great storyteller and a fabulous actor. Well done, sir!' DAVID HAREWOOD, actor and author of Maybe I Don't Belong Here


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Featured Reviews

This is a story written in beautiful language and expressing the feelings of a slave in England, feelings of love and anger especially.
The Greenwich coven, as he calls the sisters, know of his visits to the duke, and suspect that he is learning to read there. When he is imprisoned in the cellar, by those same sisters, and the slave trader comes to collect him. I will not reveal more of the plot for fear of spoiling it, but this diary is well worth a read, and is recommended.

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A truly moving, mesmerising and dramatic tale.

In 1729, somewhere in the mid-Atlantic, a baby is born aboard a slave ship and against all odd, he survives. Forward to 1746 and the same boy has escaped slavery and is trying to survive in Georgian London. Constantly on the run from slave catchers and worse, he is seeking one man who might help him - the kindly Duke of Montagu who took him in and taught him to write.

What follows is possibly the most moving and achingly beautiful story I have read in a long time.

Sancho was a real person; he lived and died over two hundred years ago. Written in the form of a memoir, "The Secret Diaries of Charles Ignatius Sancho" takes the reader through a life full of danger, disappointment, hardship and hope, ambition and success. We learn how he was taken in and cared for by three sisters, rose to become a writer, composer and much more. He also became the first Black person to vote in Britain and lead the fight to end slavery.

In his author's note, Mr Joseph says " I have taken a real person and performed an act of fiction on him....seeking first to entertain, with a by-product of enlightenment about the black presence in Britain". And he does just that - taking what could have been a dry retelling of a lesser-known figure and placing him in a world of hate, corruption, injustice and poverty, which moves, educates and inspires the reader.

This is clearly a subject very close the Paterson Joseph's' heart, and indeed, he says that the book is the result of a twenty-year interest in not just the man, but his place in history. He is well-known for bringing stories to life on stage and screen, but this book proves he can do just as good a job on paper. He says "the book is an attempt to add to the growing canon of Black Historical Fiction", and it is. It's also a simple tale of the life of one man and his live and loves.

I was delighted to receive a Netgalley ARC for review, but look forward to picking up a real copy when it's published. This book will live with me for a long time to come. Thoroughly recommended.

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It’s always interesting to read a book about a real person, as, despite what ever may be known about them, there is still a lot we don’t know, and that needs to be imagined by the author. I really enjoyed his take on this portion of black history in Georgian London. Charles Ignatius Sancho had an extraordinary life for anyone let alone an ex slave.. Very well written, my only niggle was that it felt a bit slow to start. However, an excellent historical read.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the opportunity to read and review this book.

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The Secret Diaries of Charles Ignatius Sancho by Paterson Joseph

It's 1746 and Georgian London is not a safe place for a young Black man, especially one who has escaped slavery. After the twinkling lights in the Fleet Street coffee shops are blown out and the great houses have closed their doors for the night, Sancho must dodge slave catchers and worse. The man he hoped would help - a kindly duke who taught him to write - is dying. Sancho is desperate and utterly alone.

This book is pure heaven . Read it . No , I really mean it , read it.

I could go on and tell you why you should , that the characters and the story is good or wonderful or the author writes beautifully , and I raced through it etc , or that it was the best read this year so far . Put all that aside and read it.

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The Secret Diaries of Charles Ignatius Sancho
by Paterson Joseph is a great historical fiction that is based on a true story that kept me engaged from beginning to end. I really enjoyed it!

I have actually read several nonfiction articles regarding Charles Ignatius Sancho in the past, but never anything from a fictional standpoint. I really enjoyed all of the passion, research, and talent the author exhibits with this excellent historical fiction.

With this book, we really are immersed into Georgian England (1740s), and in this case, we get to see so much more. There are so many emotions and feelings that this novel really brought to the forefront and several times, it was truly heartbreaking and difficult to read, but definitely needed. Being able to see how the character, as a Black man, trying to survive, overcome obstacles and difficulties, and how he succeeded, was such a treasure to read.

I highly recommend this one.

5/5 stars

Thank you NG and Dialogue Books/ Little, Brown Book Group UK for this wonderful arc and in return I am submitting my unbiased and voluntary review and opinion.

I am posting this review to my GR and Bookbub accounts immediately and will post it to my Amazon, Instagram, and B&N accounts upon publication on 10/6/22.

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I was so excited to read this book and I wasn’t disappointed. This book is beautifully and passionately written. The characters are so vividly written that the Georgian period is brought to life perfectly in this historical novel. I loved the style of writing as it manages to portray a time in history that was full of horrors but it does it very cleverly with poetic writing, humour and larger than life characters that bring home the lessons of history in a memorable way. I know the story is about Sancho but I fell in love with his wife Anne too who is such a strong young women.

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I loved this book. The characterisation is great and I learned a lot - I even researched Sancho after I'd read the book, so taken was I with his story. Georgian London is beautifully described and Sancho himself is such an interesting and nuanced character, it was a really good read.

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I had never heard of Charles Ignatius Sancho, so this book is much needed to bring him to the attention of the reading (and general) public.

The character of Sancho created for the book is kindly, talented and flawed. He suffers many hardships, some brought on himself by pride and stubbornness, but also finds a way to triumph. The delineation of his character is believable and makes him seem real and knowable, though little is actually recorded of his life and personality.

An important book, beautifully written.

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An amazing story about a real person of history - a black man who is born on a slave ship but who then goes on to become the first black man to vote in the uk and to be the leader of the movement to abolish slavery. I realise this is a fictional account of a story but is heavily inspired by real facts. The author has a deep interest in this man's story and I feel he has done him real justice. Recommended.

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What a wonderful book and a book that should be shared as there is just so much of interest and history in these pages.

The story of a little known Black writer and composer, his life in London long ago and his story. And although this is a fiction novel it s well researched and well written and you can immerse yourself into his story. I love the Georgian Era, the times were hard and dramatic and this story is moving, emotional, heart-breaking and so very interesting.

This is a must read for those who like historical fiction based on real people and has that extra benefit of being about a person not so well known. Very good, very interesting and a great read.

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This novel is a haunting exploration of hundreds of years of Black history in England. It is about slavery, its ugliness, its cruelty, its contradictions. We learn it all through Charles Ignatius “Sancho”, who is raised in England in the mid 1700s as a ‘Black pet’ to the three maiden aunts of his New Grenada plantation master.
After his escape from socially acceptable slavery – and after having been imprisoned in a cellar for his presumptuousness in learning to write and draw -- Sancho goes in search of the Duke of Montagu, his mentor during his impressionable years, who taught him to love music, poetry and literature. But the Duke is dying and Sancho must make his own way in the world. He falls under the artistic influence of such visionaries as Samuel Johnson & Gainsborough, but it is David Garrick who gives him his overriding love of theatre.
Much of the story is related through diary entries and letters. His future wife, Anne, forces him to come face to face with his ignorance of his roots as she corresponds with him from a Barbados plantation. Over many years of waiting for her return he learns of the true plight of those less fortunate than himself -- after all, he is just a lucky orphan! A grocer later in life, supplying his community, Sancho becomes glaringly aware that the ‘necessary’ commodities he provides include the contradictory, slave-driven ones – tea, sugar and tobacco!
Paterson Joseph, a well-known British actor, draws on the historical life of Charles Ignatius, to illuminate his novel of Black history, love and loyalty, romance and adventure. Sancho’s correspondence with Anne is particularly touching. Recommended.

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I feel like I've been on quite the adventure.
Despite knowing some of the details of Sancho's life, this book fleshed out the details, and my memory.
The highs and lows of his journey to that final magnificent page.
There's some gentle humour to be had in here, along with the horrors, and I enjoyed the mix of diary entries and letters.
Enjoyable stuff.

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I read a copy provided by Netgalley and Little, Brown Book Group UK. Opinions are my own.
This is a very well-researched account of the life of Charles Ignatius It begins in the late 18th century when he is born aboard a slave ship to a mother who dies and a father who subsequently kills himself. Sancho is alone.

His life is recounted in the form of detailed accounts to his son Billy. These range back and forth and tell of cruelties but also gains and successes; of kind white people as well as those who treat him with indifference, or worse, sheer cruelty.

Along the way Sancho meets the famed of the day, Garrick, Handel, Franklin and even the King.He becomes accomplished and writes plays and music. It is an enthralling life and Paterson Joseph gets the tone just right as Sancho tells his extraordinary story in his own words.


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A captivating and haunting historical novel, telling the true story of a Great Black Briton. This historical book is not only dramatic and engrossing, it is also insightful and wise. Read it! Read it! You will never forget it!

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It’s always a good thing to step out of your comfort zone and read about a subject that you have little knowledge of, whilst I had read quite a few books about the general slave trade this is an interesting take on the life of a young slave in Britain

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A beautifully written and emotive book that I couldn't put down. I genuinely felt like I was in the pages of the diary witnessing first hand the life of Charles. The characters were well developed and I loved Charles but hated others such as the sisters.
If you read one book this year you need to make it this one.

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This was a really interesting read, loved the blending of fact and fiction to make for a rest good read. I found the story engaging and the setting really well drawn.

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This is not your typical "denunciation of slavery" historical fiction, and the reader's sympathy for the protagonist is as much rooted in the common insecurities of humanity as it is in revulsion at an institution that shamed, and, unfortunately, continues, to a lesser extent, to shame the world.

"The Secret Diaries of Charles Ignatius Sancho", both in title and form echoes the picaresque of the 17th and 18th centuries, crossed, to some degree, with the epistolary novel.

Sancho is not a typical slave. He's overfed, gouty, and a bit full of himself. His social progress, up, down, and up again, while informed by his status as a black male of uncertain position, is also used to mirror the evolution of the world in which he lives. Thus, the early part of the novel uses his rapidly changing circumstances as much to shed light on various facets of mid-to-late English society as to critique the role of those of Black African descent within it.

Sancho himself notes that his relatively pampered upbringing cuts him off from true understanding of the Black experience in that period. As a literary device, it performs the rather clever function of making him easier for a general readership to identify with, while the satirical magnification of incident and character typical of the picaresque makes one inclined to view this section of the book as an entertainment as much as a social commentary.

While there are specific racially-conditioned episodes, Sancho always manages to escape major consequences. It is only when he finds love, with a woman who has a similar education but much more direct exposure to the iniquities suffered by slaves and their descendants, that the tale of the pícaro begins to embrace the wider world in which he lives. Even then, the story is still strongly centred on its eponymous protagonist whose diminishing isolation from the lot of his fellow Black Britons mirrors the readers' increasing empathy for this unlikely hero.

It's a very effective writing gambit, and I found a growing fascination with the strangely pompous-but-insecure Sancho and his fate. The book in no way minimises the harsh society in which he finds himself - particularly with regard to child mortality, but it also uses his experiences as an individual to illuminate the slow but inexorable changes taking place therein: the American Revolution, the integration of Irish Catholics into the army (and the subsequent Gordon Riots), the legal decision that declared that no-one on British soil could be a slave.

Artfully constructed and well-informed about the conventions of literary forms not usually directed to the examination of this particular social issue, this book was a delight to read. My congratulations to the author.

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The themes of this book were what interested me although prior to reading I am sorry to say I had heard of neither Sancho nor the author Paterson Joseph. Reading the book has certainly encouraged me to find out more about Charles Ignatius Sancho, the first person of African descent to have a vote in Britain. I have since discovered that Joseph previously wrote a play about the character which I would love to see.
This book has been very well researched by Joseph and gives considerable insight into Sancho's life in 18th century London and also, at one remove, to the lives of both slaves and free Blacks on the Caribbean plantations at the time.
Orphaned Sancho became a composer and writer of some note and there still exist published editions of both his music and letters which largely concerned the need to abolish the slave trade.
Joseph has written this fictional biography of Sancho in the form of a diary (allegedly written for his youngest son Billy) and fictionalised letters between Sancho and his fiance Anne when she was in the Caribbean. One very positive aspect of this decision is to give a major voice to Anne, highlighting her positive influence on Sancho. In general however I found the two styles and leaps in the timeline to be somewhat confusing.
Overall I found this book an enlightening read which certainly sparked my interest and I would recommend it to readers who appreciate fictionalilsed biographies and to those interested in Black History.
My thanks to the publisher via Net Galley for a complimentary ARC of this title in return for an honest review.

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I had never heard of Charles Ignatius Sancho, who was born aboard a slave ship and later became the first known person of African descent to vote in a British general election (as a result of being an independent male property owner, he had the right to vote in the 1774 and 1780 elections).

This novel, although based loosely around his life, follows the highs, the lows and horrors of his journey. Much of which is told through diary entries and letters to his wife Anne.

This is a beautiful novel and an absolute must read for those who like historical fiction based on real people and events.

Thank you to NetGalley and Little Brown Book Group UK for this excellent historical read.

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This first novel by the actor Paterson Joseph is a really enjoyable and fascinating read. This is the story of Charles Ignatius Sancho an actor musician and abolitionist- in fact the first black person to vote..Born into slavery the book tells of his incredible life ; in many ways Dickensian in style and with a true sense of the period, the life of Ignatiius Sancho - his trial , tribulations, loves and adventures is written with heart for the man and presented through the protagonist telling his life story to his son. There are also parts of the book presented in letters written between him and his wife Anne Osborne- moving and detailing the traumas of their lives. The sense of oppression and one moment away from being captive back into slavery is palpable during Ignatius’ life . This is a intriguing read about one of British history’s heroes and his story needs to be widely known. Highly recommended

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This was such a good book. I love historical fiction, especially when it is about eras/ situations that I previously knew nothing about and this was definitely one of those books. It was so well researched and so compelling in its narrative that not only did I love reading it but I felt that I learned too. A really enjoyable read and perfect for any fans of historical fiction. This is a first for me by the author and one I enjoyed and would read more of their work. The book cover is eye-catching and appealing and would spark my interest if in a bookshop. Thank you very much to the author, publisher and Netgalley for this ARC.

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I love reading history - fact, fiction or something of both, I enjoy it all. I especially like reading about hidden history which sadly includes the many black Britons before Windrush.

So I have been so looking forward to this book since I first heard about it. Huge thanks to Paterson and his snap Twitter giveaway I was able to read an early proof.

I'm happy to report this book does not disappoint. The story of Charles Ignatuius Sancho is utterly compelling and so well drawn by the author.

His story is told through the writing of a diary of his life he wishes to leave to his son. From his arrival on England's shores through his trials and successes you are right there with him.

What an extraordinary but at the same time ordinary life. The people he meets and his luck is incredible but through the diaries we can see he shares fears most of us have - where will life take us, will we find someone to love, what legacy do we leave for our children.

Really enjoyed the insights into life in Barbados we gain through his letters between him and his wife Anne while they are in the early days of their relationship.

Definitely not all doom and gloom though as he recounts some cracking nights out in the inns and fleshpots of London and often in great company too - Dr Samuel Johnstone, William Hogarth & David Garrick are just a few famous names who make an appearance in the story. And boy does Sancho love his food - something I can definitely relate to!

A special mention to the gorgeous cover too - absolutely beautiful!

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The Secret Diaries Of Charles Ignatius Sancho
I have long admired Paterson Joseph as an actor, ever since I first saw him onstage playing Atahualpha, the Inca King betrayed and murdered by the invading Spaniards in The Royal Hunt of the Sun by Peter Shaffer. It was, therefore, a privilege to be able to read this, his first novel, and to discover that he is not only a superb actor, but also an excellent writer and a Social Historian, who has very effectively recaptured both d the atmosphere and society of early to mid-Georgian England, most specifically relating to the lives of the perhaps surprisingly large number of people of colour who inhabited London at the time, and the experiences of enslaved black people in Barbados, toiling in awful conditions in sugar and tobacco plantations for their often cruel white owners and overseers.
My interest was thoroughly engaged by the book, written in a style like that of Laurence Sterne’s The Life and Adventures of Tristam Shandy, Gentleman. However, the modern reader may well be relieved to discover that Joseph, although he uses a mixture of diary entries and letters to tell his tale which encompasses the life of the eponymous protagonist from birth to the age of 51 years, does not go into the precise and, some might say, overly verbose and florid detail of his celebrated predecessor. As a result, this book is extremely suitable for the modern reader, who will be engaged by the multifarious adventures of Joseph’s charming, colourful hero, Charles Aloysius Sancho as he evades captivity and slave catchers, dips his toe into bohemian, Georgian life in the company of luminaries such as Dr Johnson, Thomas Gainsborough and the renowned actor, David Garrick. He works as a valet, a messenger, the assistant to a Vicar, a composer of light music and even as an actor, treading the boards in a single performance of Shakespeare’s Othello. He mixes with the higher echelons of society, too, through his employment with the Dowager Duchess of Mansfield, widow of his first patron, who teaches him to read and encourages his thirst for education, and the Second Duke who, courtesy of his situation as close aide to King George The Third, converses with Royalty and teaches music to the youngest members of the Royal Family.
The reader will be gripped, too, by the account of life in Barbados by Sancho’s beloved, later his wife, Anne Clarke, and moved by her accounts, through letters to Sancho, of the awful situation of enslaves peoples of their colour, in particular, the moving story of nine-year-old Ata, violated by a wicked overseer and, as a result, having her lively spirit crushed forever.
For the Social Historian, it is interesting to have an insight into the lives of coloured people living in this period, as well as into the Bohemian world of artists, writers, musicians, and actors at the time. Paterson Joseph has clearly undertaken a good deal of historical research, but he has cloaked the research within a gripping narrative peopled with thoroughly engaging characters. This is an excellent debut, and, although I hope that Paterson Joseph will continue his career on the stage, I also look forward to more novels from the pen of this talented new author.
Goodreads Rating: 5 Stars.

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This is the story of Charles Ignatius Sancho. These are his diaries written for his son William.

Born on a slave ship his mother died in childbirth and his father killed himself. Charles a newborn orphan was now taken to a plantation in New Grenada. Charles knew his master by only the name of Mr Henry.

When Charles was 3 years old Mr Henry took him to England and he was sent to live with Mr Henry’s 3 maiden aunts in Royal Greenwich. The Aunts name call Charles by the name of Sancho and treat him more like a pet than a human being. Alongside Tilly, the maid, the aunts are known as the coven.

A chance encounter with Duke John of Montagu leads to reading and writing lessons with the kindly Duke under the guise of helping Tilly at the market fetching food for the coven.

Georgian London is not a safe place for a young Black man, Sancho must dodge slave catchers and worse. The man he hoped would help, adujé John is dying. Sancho finds himself desperately and utterly alone.

So how does Charles come to meet the King, write and play music, become the first Black person to vote in Britain and lead the fight to end slavery?

This book is beautifully written. It’s written as a diary and also, in between, Sancho stops to write comments to his son. There is some language that is offensive however the author does not glorify it and it is used in the context of the storyline. This is a thought provoking, heart wrenching and emotional book. At times I had to remind myself that this was historical fiction and not a real diary but I am well aware that the incidents that the author has written about would have probably occurred in real life. I cannot recommend this book enough

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The Secret Diaries of Charles Ignatius Sancho, by Paterson Joseph.

This is a historical work of fiction but based on the true story of Charles Ignatius Sancho. He is someone I only recently became aware of, and that was due to a Google Doodle. So needless to say when I was given the opportunity to have a ARC copy from Netgallery UK and Dialogue Books I was extremely excited to read more. I wasn't disappointed. Here is my unbiased review.

This book while fictional, draws a lot on Sanchos' (as he was pretty much known throughout his life) own true story and that allows us to be engaged in a memoir style of book, rather than a history text book. As such it works wonderfully and we become immersed in a lifestyle that is both cruel and for Sancho at least, what became a pretty luxurious upbringing in England. Where he was raised though was more for entertainment value to those around him, and it undoubtedly leaves Sancho in a sort of no-mans land of where he belongs.

There is nothing hidden from certain events - the opening chapter alone is gritty and uncompromising in the realities faced by many Black people of the time. Yet Sancho is also shielded from a lot of this reality, and he realised that it became a barrier for him.

Despite some of the bleakness we get a far more rounded view overall and the courtship with Anne who would become his wife, and his desire to leave a mark on this world brought a balance that I worried would be too condescending of the Black experiences, and yet was far from that. If anything it helped highlight the Black experiences from multiple points of view and that for me is where the book really worked.

I highly recommend this book. Both as historical fiction and as a lesson in Black UK history.
Charles Ignatius Sancho deserves to be a household name, and books such as this will hopefully bring him more to the fore.

Highly recommended reading and without a shadow of a doubt, 5/5 stars 🌟
A dazzling book that should grace any bookshelf.

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