Monday, April 17, 2006
We Seem to Have a Trend!
I'm a sucker for ship novels. I think that it all started with The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle in sixth grade. I don't know why. I mean, it must have been unsufferably boring, being on a ship, that is. Even now. What is there to look at, to see? You'd better have good company, 'cause if it's bad, there's no end of difficulty - as is the case in Charlotte Doyle and Powder Monkey. Having set out to sea in a merchant ship, 13-year-old Sam is soon pressed into service onto the British Frigate Miranda (being pressed is far more amusing in Under the Jolly Roger). You see, it's 1800 and Britain is fighting France (demmed Napoleon with his whole post French Revolution need for an Empire) and they need as many bodies (no matter how willing) to catch gunshot, cannon shot and chain shot (often leading to a death most bloody) as possible. Anyway, it is in this fun & games atmosphere that dear old Sam is dropped into. He doesn't want to be there, and there are some pretty belligerent jerks with ropes who are only too happy to beat him up. Oh, and there's that pesky war what with the fighting and the death. Noteworthy detail: they sprinkle sand on the decks before a fight so the floor doesn't become slippery when all that messy blood is spilt; might have known it before, will certainly remember it now.
There is one thing that sets this ship novel apart from most of the others that I've read. Sam is just a normal boy, who, at least on some level wanted to work on a ship. He doesn't have any extraordinary cleverness that allows him to one-up the bullies and the authority. He's just a boy stuck in a bad situation trying to muddle through. He's not really a hero at the end (despite what the stupid jacket flap says), but he has grown, and will probably have a few more adventures. If you think that the kid will go on to read Patrick O'Brian and Bernard Cornwell, or if they just like this kind of book, go for it. I might not make this the first introduction to the genre, as the aforementioned Avi title, the Bloody Jack series and Slave Dancer are all stronger, in their own ways (and some, eras).