When the French explorer Lapérouse set sail in 1785, bringing with him botanists, map-makers and geologists, he was on a mission to discover something new, be it country, animal or custom.
They would be away for years, but they went willingly, ablaze with the zeal for knowledge and the quest to make history. But history is an unpredictable and shifty concept, as Williams reveals in her pin-sharp, elegant début.
The book is packed with intricate detail, from the description of a snug cabin to the look of the landscape hidden by fog, and full of adventure and misadventure.
But it’s really the misinterpretations and misconceptions of the explorers and the people they encounter – often woefully, catastrophically at odds with each other – that give the novel its emotional power.