Distant Thunder by T.D. Griggs narrates the tales of two children living in the late 19th century at the height of British colonialism: Frank, who is raised in Bangladesh and whose life is turned upside down when he witnesses an assault on his mother, and Grace, a child of wealth raised in England who has different ambitions and goals from those her family set out for her. As their paths cross, we are shown their adventures across bohemian Vienna, the Northwest Frontier, the slums of London and the deserts of Sudan. Both children are forced into living as outcasts due to the injustice they have been served in life. Frank seeks revenge upon the unknown attacker who left his mother dead, and Grace is deeply troubled by the human cost of her family’s riches, causing her to clash with the father she deeply adores. The children are united by their sense of injustice, but swiftly learn they have more in common than they first imagine.
Griggs’s prose approaches poetry, a rare thing in such a lengthy novel. So often prose that attempts to be poetic can appear convoluted and self-aware, yet Griggs’s choice of language submerges readers into the setting. “He stole forward across the moonlit lawn and through the bed of canna lilies under the veranda rail. A moth thrummed in the warm air close to his face.” Through simple yet vivid language, Griggs is able to immerse the reader in a place they have never been yet which feels familiar from the first page.
Character development can feel a little vague at times, especially towards the beginning of the novel, though this is perhaps designed to reflect the innocence of the children before the tragic events that occur. Similarly, the conversations between characters can appear stilted; for example, Frank’s responses to his mother can seem overly formal while she is loving, emotional and tender, yet one comes to see Frank’s formality as part of his attempt to be a stalwart Victorian boy. The real pleasure of Griggs’s writing, though, stems from the style. If you savour prose that delivers both compelling narrative with strong descriptions of setting and surroundings, Distant Thunder is sure to please.