Treading Softly, Breaking Shells

Written by Kim Balette
Review by Lisa Sheehan

The complicated world of the Seychelles in 1878 comes vividly to life in Kim Balette’s Treading Softly, Breaking Shells when Peter, a plantation owner, who is viewed as something of an oddity by the British colony’s old French landowning families, welcomes his sister Louisa to the islands that are now his home.

She is involved immediately in both Peter’s struggles with his plantation and with the haphazard efforts of his housemaid/housekeeper, Sarah, to raise his two little children. Adding to these complications is Peter’s black servant, Joseph, the book’s most morally complex and well-realized character.

This rich atmosphere-building would probably have satisfied me as a novel on its own, but Balette adds to the tension all these characters are facing by introducing a murder on a neighboring plantation, the sensational details of which are also very well-handled in this intelligent and richly subversive novel.