If you’re not a Castalia Library subscriber and you’re contemplating the possibility of dipping your toe into deluxe book collecting, THE MISSIONARIES is an excellent place to start. There is a reason we chose it as the first book in the Castalia Library.
The Dark Herald discusses the Owen Stanley book on the Arkhaven blog:
The Missionaries takes place on Elephant Island. An Australian protectorate that Australia wants off the books. The Island is going to be Independent whether they like it or not. The Moroks who inhabit Elephant Island would have been surprised to hear that anyone besides them owned it in the first place.
“Roaring” Roger Fletcher is the Australian Royal Magistrate in name. And the local king in function. The native Morok peoples are convinced that he is the incarnation of their chief god Takime. He lives rough as he wishes and enjoys the Morok’s love and respect, as well as their roast pork and their svelte women. He carefully manages local disputes using trial by combat as a way to keep murder, rape, and cannibalism within acceptable limits.
The Moroks have their own culture and are rather fond of it.
Laripa was distinguished among the settlements of the Moroks by the presence the greatest orator Malek; the greatest sorcerer Macardit; and the greatest philosopher, Garang, a twisted, hairless little man with a squint. It was thus a kind of Florence or Paris, a cultural center where the aspiring young intellectual of the Moroks came to learn the secrets of their fathers, and, more hidden still, the dark revelations of the Before-Men who, led by Tikame himself, had roamed the mountains when Time itself was not.
The problem is that the UN has decided that they won’t be allowed to keep it. Fletcher’s opponent Doctor Prout, is a sociologist who has been given an ounce of power by a UN Special Commission. I can’t think of a more terrifying combination.
This story is skillfully constructed. The tone is consistent and builds steadily to a climax that I didn’t quite predict. That’s good because there’s nothing worse than an ending you saw coming all along.
There is an organic mixture of poetic description that paints a vivid and flourishing portrait of life on Elephant Island, that is ably counterbalanced by its larger-than-life characters. As well some lower-than-life characters. In my time I’ve known people like all of them. If you’ve lived a quiet life, allow me to assure you, these are all real people.
The work is consistently toned and beautifully written with prose that made me remember what a sweltering island jungle smelled like after an afternoon storm.
Years ago, the reporter Amanda Robb asked, prior to her interview of me, which Castalia House book she should read to best understand what made us different than all the other publishing houses. I told her to read THE MISSIONARIES. When we subsequently talked, I asked her what she thought of it. She said it was the most disturbing and most racist book she had ever read. She also said that she couldn’t put it down, that it kept making her laugh out loud, and now she hated herself for it.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is a sign of a novel that is not merely good, but great, with substantive commentary on the human condition.