Am I the only one sucked into the weird and wonderful world of Taboo? The show is currently airing on the BBC, in the US and on Amazon Prime, starring Tom Hardy. It’s his own production, written by his father, and it’s about the most darkly different show on the television right now.
Taboo has aired to mixed reviews, but generally the reception has been good. What it lacks sometimes in dialogue it makes up for in sheer weirdness full of magic, incest and surrealism, and some fantastic imagery.
Adventurer James Delaney builds his own shipping empire in the early 1800s, but now he is dead and his son is back from the dead to claim his inheritance. With themes of slavery, colonialism, magical realism, and many taboo subjects, the show is set in the early 19th Century, mostly in London and heavily features the East India Dock Company and the war with America.
Hardy plays the role well with shades of Oliver Reed’s Sikes, grunting and mono-syllabic, while still owning every inch of the screen he possesses, and if you’ve enjoyed Season 1 as much as me then we have some books to recommend while we await the now confirmed second season!
The Devil’s Company – David Liss
If you’re interested in the East India Company and you’d like another novel set around the same scenery then The Devil’s Company is a fantastic murder mystery, full of intrigue, darkness and suspense. It’s the third in a series but the only one set around the East India Dock and it stands alone pretty well.
The East India Company: Trade and Conquest from 1600 – Antony Wild
The East India thrived through a time of Imperialism, slavery and darkness and this complete nonfiction history is an essential read if you’d like to know more about how the East India company became the biggest global superpower even known.
Journal of the Plague Year – Daniel Defoe
If Downton Abbey is Jane Austen then Taboo is Daniel Defoe. Defoe was known for writing about themes of Imperialism and colonialism in Robinson Crusoe but in Journal of the Plague Year he speaks of one man’s experience of the year 1665, the Great Plague. It’s gritty realism at its very best with that dark Gothic theme you’re looking for.
Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad
While we’re on the classics we have to mention Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, a dark novel told from a boat on the River Thames. Protagonist Marlow tells his friends of a voyage up the Congo River and shows it’s hard to tell the civilised from the savages when it comes to the crunch. Hardy has specifically mentioned channelling both Marlow, and Dickens’ Sikes for the role, giving this novel specific meaning.
The Master and Margarita – Mikhail Bulgakov
We’re leaving London but we’re sticking with the classics, much magical realism and a vodka drinking cat as we head to Soviet Russia for the Master and Margarita. It’s not an easy read but it’s well worth it if you stick it out.
A Darker Shade of Magic – V. E Schwab
If you love the fantasy element of Taboo then try A Darker Shade of Magic. Adult fantasy set in parallel Londons. Not quite so dark as Taboo, it’s full of magic, fast-paced and complex and is on the upper end of quality adult fantasy novels.
Hawksmoor – Peter Ackroyd
Whitbread Award winner and Guardian Fiction winner 1985 is Hawksmoor, a parallel tale that switches between 18th century London and 1980s London. It’s dark and full of mysticism, human sacrifice, murder and suspense and should quench your appetite if you want more Taboo!
The Unseeing – Anna Mazzola
Set in London in 1837, The Unseeing is the story of Sarah Gale, a seamstress sentenced to hang for the murder of Hannah Brown on the eve of her wedding. It’s a twisting tale of family secrets and an intricate plot worthy of the Delaneys.
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