Book Review: ‘This Thing of Darkness’ by Harry Thompson

‘This Thing of Darkness’ tells the story of Robert FitzRoy, brilliant naval man, father of meteorology and friend of Charles Darwin.This is technically a fictional account of his life, but it really is a novel written around factual sources from FitzRoy’s logs, Darwin’s writings and other historical data. Thompson has written a magnificent character piece around this historical data.Thompson goes on to write an afterword that outlines exactly how little he embellished the story, in most instances only inventing the dialogue, and highlights a very few scenes which were entirely fabricated.

The one aspect that stood out was the quality of the dialogue. Each conversation was interesting and insightful. It was at times quite hilarious. For a book about the tragic life of FitzRoy, there are some great laughs. And we all know how hard it is to write comedy in a novel. There is a wonderful scene with the Beagle’s surgeon and a parrot that will make you laugh out loud.

This wonderful book kept me occupied during the holiday period. It was a shame it had to end. It really did tick all the boxes for a perfect novel. Lots of science, learning, history, comedy, tragedy and all told with a lot of heart. It is truly deserving of the highest marks I could give and would make it into my selected top 10 reads of all time. This is a book recommended to everyone, especially those who would like to know more about Darwin and FitzRoy without wading into dull history books.

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