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Fiction Review Compelling journey through the dark territory of the soul

Dark Territory
by Jerry Hunter
(Y Lolfa, £9.99)

JERRY HUNTER’S debut novel, translated from Welsh into English by Patrick K Ford, is a compelling and forcefully propelled story of one man’s journey through the most tumultuous decades in British history.

Rhisiart Dafydd, his protagonist, starts off as a zealous and resolute Protestant who becomes a highly effective parliamentary pike man in the “Army of the Saints.”

With the glorious defeat of the Stuart monarchy, he embarks on a challenging quest to the New World.

Hunter has clearly done his research well and, through Dafydd’s eyes, we're immersed into the heightened debates within the dissenter communities as to the perfect society and how best to achieve it.

Representative of a nascent revolution against a corrupt old order, there are vividly recreated disputations between Calvinists, Quakers and Levellers and the role of various ministers as religious commissars.

Informed by the Soldier’s Catechism, these disparate and disputing groups morph into the so-called Roundheads, who combine an impressive revolutionary attitude, exhibited through faith and discipline even before the military reforms that created the New Model Army.

Dafydd/Hunter's view of the inconclusive confusion of the Battle of Edgehill, the shattering victory at Naseby and the massacres of Drogheda and Wexford place the reader at the very centre of the action and there's something cinematic about the pace and focus of this novel’s first half,  including the death of Elizabeth, Dafydd's wife, to the plague.

The second part, though, is more reflective and studied and it's less animated, at least after the shipwreck episode as Dafydd undertakes his old boss’s commission to contact a Welsh community established somewhere along the American coast.

When he reaches New Jerusalem, he experiences a sort of post-traumatic reaction to what he has done and seen during his various campaigns, including a vicarious guilt over the massacre and mutilation of Welsh women during the battle at Naseby.

His introspection and uncertainty is in marked contrast to the dominant theology of the settlement — one that is unequivocal, harsh and cruel — which is run along the lines of political Calvinism. The community’s leaders are obsessed by predestination, even to the extent of judging the fate of new born children.

Hunter handles the inevitable, but not predestined, clash between Dafydd and the elders with real confidence, so ending an extraordinarily well-imagined novel that resonates with many contemporary issues and situations.

On the evidence of Dark Territory, Hunter is an exciting and authentic new writer with an extraordinary grasp of the interaction between character and situation.

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