In Trial of Strength: Adventures and Misadventures on the Wild and Remote Subantarctic Islands, the author, Shona Riddell, gives a fascinating and enjoyable insight into the last few centuries’ history of these remote wonders of nature.
Painting a picture of the powerful and ferocious setting of the remote islands themselves, she charmingly tells you a collection of different tales along the way. These include stories about the optimism, inspiration and desperation of explorers, sealers, farmers, scientists and conservationists to name only a few.
The author’s own personal attachment also shines through in an endearing way. She herself had family who settled on these predominantly uninhabitable islands and has also personally visited them.
As someone who has always been in awe of the power of the sea, I particularly enjoyed reading about the various shipwrecks to fall foul of the islands. Although it is hard to imagine how unenjoyable an experience that must have been! The story of two shipwrecks in particular, The Grafton and The Invercauld, highlight how people on the same island, just kilometres away, can deal with adversity in such different ways.
In addition to the many stories told throughout this book, I also enjoyed learning about the abundance of wildlife to inhabit and visit the islands. From seals and penguins through to parrots and goats there is lots to learn and see!
Overall I found this book very well written and easy to just pick up and keep coming back to. Each chapter was broken up into thoroughly researched smaller sections and includes lots of accompanying photographs throughout.
Having grown up in England and recently moved to New Zealand, I had very little prior knowledge of the islands or their history. Wanting to learn and find out more I was both impressed and delighted that this book surpassed my expectations. A highly recommended read.
Book Review by Wilf Crock
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