1805. When Lieutenant William King is relieved of his command in the Royal Navy, he returns home to Liverpool where his father, George King, owns a shipping business. In the Mail coach he encounters a leading member of Wilberforce’s anti-slavery movement. Their conversation, combined with the appalling conditions he had witnessed on a captured Spanish slaver, convinces him of the evils of slavery. But Liverpool’s great wealth is built on the slave trade. He is shocked to find his father’s shipping business is now entirely devoted to the Africa-West Indies-Liverpool triangle. Wilberforce and his colleagues are despised and feared in Liverpool, the largest slaving port in the country. Should their anti-slave-trade bill pass in Parliament, careers and fortunes will be destroyed, including that of George King. At odds with his father, William decides to captain a ship trading with Boston to prove that profits can be made from shipping without relying on slavery.
Woodland deals with what the abolition of the slave trade will bring to those whose life and wealth depends upon it. After a rather disjointed start, the novel settles down to William’s adventures in Boston, Jamaica and Havana. To find cargo in the New World that does not depend in some way on slave labour proves very difficult, and his attempts to solve this problem are interesting. There are several exciting action pieces: a night-time rescue and a duel are well done. But the novel is clumsily written. There is too much repetitive dialogue of the “Hello, how are you?” “Please sit down” style. Most of the characters, including William, are two-dimensional, although George King’s nasty young wife is interestingly complex. If this novel is not entirely successful, its heart is in the right place.