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The Sugar Merchant
When Thomas’s family is annihilated in a raid, his life changes forever. Wandering for days, starving and hopeless, he is rescued by a monk and is taken to live at the abbey of Eynsham. There he receives a curious education, training to be a scholar, a merchant and a spy. His mission: to develop commerce in Muslim lands and dispatch vital information to the Holy See. His perilous adventures during the 11th century’s commercial revolution will take him far from his cloistered life to the great trading cities of Almeria, Amalfi, Alexandria and Cairo. But the world in which he lives is chaotic. Struggling with love and loss, faith and fortune, can Thomas carry out his secret mission before conflict overtakes him? Spanning the tumultuous medieval worlds of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, The Sugar Merchant is a tale of clashing cultures, massive economic change and one man’s determination to fulfil his destiny.
Plot/Idea: 7 out of 10
Originality: 8 out of 10
Prose: 8 out of 10
Character/Execution: 7 out of 10
Overall: 7.50 out of 10


Plot: The plot of “The Sugar Merchant” flows along steadily at an upbeat pace. As the title suggests, the book focuses very heavily on trade and commerce. It is, essentially, a journal of an ancient trader over several years. There are momentary sparks of action, but everything else is fairly mundane. One of the more interesting aspects of the book is the look at the other side of the Muslim/Catholic conflicts of the first century.

Prose/Style: Hutson-Wiley's prose is simple, but it effectively captures the atmosphere and voices of the historical people and places. The book would benefit from a light to medium copy edit.

Originality: The originality of the book is in the perspective. Books about the Holy Wars and pilgrimages are common, but are usually told from the point of view of the crusaders. The Sugar Merchant gives readers a look at the other side of the story, even if it is told by a Catholic monk.

Character Development: The characters are all fairly standard, and their personalities would be enhanced by some more delving into their origin stories, motives, and individual emotions – nevertheless, they are realistic and memorable.

Date Submitted: April 04, 2019

Hutson-Wiley’s debut, a sweeping portrait of 11th-century commerce, follows an English orphan who becomes a wealthy merchant trading sugar throughout the Mediterranean. Thomas Woodward is eight when Flemish mercenaries murder his family; an Eynsham monk finds him in the woods and brings him to his abbey, where Thomas is educated to be an intellectual and merchant, and also trained in self-defense in order to spy for the Catholic church. He is dispatched to Muslim countries, working under the guise of a sugar merchant, while seeking knowledge of closely guarded advances in Muslim medicine and agriculture; he travels extensively, but homes in on Alexandria and Cairo, centers of trade and learning. Thomas is highly successful in business, partnering with Assad and Jusuf (Muslim and Jewish, respectively) in the burgeoning sugar trade. Hutson-Wiley highlights the partners’ kinship and mutual respect for each other’s faith in conversations and when dealing with business decisions. Though the narrative hits some dull spots in passages about merchandise, trade, and currency calculations that lack the tension of the opening, the story inevitably leads to Thomas’s revelations about love and loss, the meaning of life, and the emptiness of wealth in moments of despair. This complex and fascinating portrait of medieval life will appeal to history devotees. (BookLife)
Reader's Favorate


5 Stars 

Reviewed By Divine Zape for Readers’ Favorite
...James Hutson-Wiley captures the soul and spirit of the era in a brilliant way in the narrative, allowing readers to relive the religious, cultural, and political tensions of the time. He weaves themes of espionage, religious intrigue, and the personal struggles of a man into a story that takes readers across different distinct cultures. The historical elements of the setting are skillfully knitted into the narrative and the author uses them to enrich the conflict. I was fascinated by the compelling social and cultural commentaries that paint a vivid image of the time. The use of the epistolary style enhances the plot points and the conflict while helping to deepen character development. The Sugar Merchant is a great achievement and a page-turner for fans of historical novels; a story with powerful themes, compelling characters, and a gripping plot.

Reader's Favorite

eview #1: Review by Anne-Marie Reynolds


5 Stars 

Reviewed By Anne-Marie Reynolds for Readers’ Favorite

....The Sugar Merchant by James Hutson-Wiley is a deep novel covering many subjects that are relevant to today’s world, including multiculturalism, innovations in technology and commerce, and immigration. Reading this novel, it's very easy to draw parallels between this time period and the current times we live in – there really isn’t so much difference! It is a well-written novel, brought fully alive by the descriptive style of writing that draws the reader skillfully into the story. It is well paced with plenty of action and with characters that are incredibly well developed to the extent that you feel as if you know them personally. Reading it was like being pulled straight back to the 11th century, seeing it in vivid color and experiencing life as it was then. I really enjoyed this book and am looking forward to the sequel.

The Book Review Directory


...In essence, this book can be considered a coming-of-age story. Readers will see how Thomas develops from a naïve young man into an enterprising and respected individual in his own right. This evolution was shown through chapters detailing his transactions and interactions with the people he meets on his journey…The tumultuous history of early Europe, as well as the Middle East, served as a backdrop for the protagonist’s journey. The author’s vivid descriptions were evocative of the sights, sounds, and sensations of that era. There was also a careful and painstaking attention to even the most minute of details that added to the authentic feel of the book.

Though quite lengthy, readers will enjoy sinking their teeth into this book and getting lost in the annals of time. A full cast of characters, an intrepid hero, and an exciting plot were placed in the hands of a truly skilled author for the enjoyment of fans of historical fiction. Combining action and adventure with bursts of humor and humanity, this novel truly showcases the genre at its best.


Rating : 4 out of 5 stars