Tillyard's prose is stunning, the landscape of Jan Brunt's arrival in Nieuw Amsterdam in 1649 brought to life in a "Gentleman's Adventure." His project comes to fruition as he redirects the flow wetlands called "The Great Level." Brunt's character is challenging, nature's idiosyncrasies dulled with the pedantic descriptions of a young man; but the drama shows promise when Jan's deeper nature is awakened when he meets the beautiful Eliza. First a love story between man and his vision to reshape the earth's natural contours, it is only briefly a love story between man and woman when his stoicism is overwhelmed by an irresistible physical attraction. When betrayal severs the relationship, he retreats to safer ground, sustained over time by only the vague ache of memory.
A fascinating description of a 17th-century effort to alter the shape--and therefore the future--of a landmass, those engaged in the groundbreaking adventure show scarce concern for the displacement of indigenous cultures and the blight of slavery. The pursuit of capitalists propels innovation, Brunt choosing the euphoria of his career successes over the wild abandonment of passion. Unable to break the bonds of his past, his skills proof of man's ability to control the world of the future, Jan's love for Eliza is cast aside, ultimately a detriment to the his ambition. That she survives the relationship to claim her own victory is comforting in the course of events.
From the first page, Tillyard's 17th-century drama is rich in detail, characters defined by a particular environment, the protagonist reacting to the political and economic realities of Great Britain in that time. Originally from the Netherlands, Jan Brunt is thrilled (if anxious) to prove a technique used in his homeland, one with promising results in the marshy wetlands of The Great Level and, later, in the New World. The author explores a little-known era where science proves invaluable to progress, Jan Brunt making his mark on the history of a remote corner of the world. The needs of society are no match for progress. A promising New World beckons, oblivious to the human detritus in its wake.
Tillyard's language is touched with a strange natural beauty capturing both an era and the perspective of characters on the edge of change, the thoughts of a young man molded by his dreams: "I live on a crooked finger of ground that slides between two rivers of the sea". Shaped by Victorian rigidity and a blind belief in a world under the control of godly men, he is unable to fully embrace the woman who engages his heart, allegiance to his mission the central focus of his life.
Aside from his brief encounter with love, Jan Brunt never escapes the constraints of a man at war with the natural world. Contained by the majesty of his surroundings, Brunt is inspired in pursuit of achievement, unable to share that passion with a woman, to claim both the imprimatur of time and the courage of love.