Sea Wolf by David Miller
|Sea Wolf by David Miller|
|Genre: Confident Readers|
|Reviewer: John Lloyd|
|Summary: A rollicking adventure - if you like your rollicking to be at the same pace throughout, and awkward symptoms of sequelitis to slightly spoil your adventure.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 304||Date: January 2010|
Meet Hanna, Ned and Jik. They're on an unlikely quest to recover the world's biggest and richest pearl, from the hiding place Jik alone knows of, when there's a problem in the shape of a tornado. They're thrown from the craft they're on, Ned disappears - and then there were two. Hanna and Jik get rescued by the occupants of a horrid, piratical craft, engaged in very environmentally-unfriendly fishing. Jik gets overworked and underfed, and then there was one... Only one - Hanna - with the spunk, brainpower and energy to keep her spirit together, and try and get one up on the Maestro who commands the boat.
This is one of those titles with a lot of merit in the telling, but a build-up of bad beats, annoying hiccups, and things that I feel duty-bound to mention when reviewing. I hate that, for the simple fact that however I laud the drive of the action, or the welter of cliff-hanging chapters, or the nostalgia such a title gave me for books I was reading when I was the age this is designed for, I'm the one left struggling to create a balanced response.
So, please take all the above on board - the cliff-hangers, remembrances and so on. And forgive me if I sound too heavy-handed in itemising the flaws.
They started early for me, initially with the very nature of the set-up - I didn't exactly believe or empathise with their quest from the off, even though a flashback comes along as quickly as possible (the second chapter) to tell us the back-story, how the British kids Hanna and Ned know Jik, the native of one of the Pacific islands in the Borneo area of the world, and that - despite that - this will be quite a self-contained tale.
My second problem was the horrid contrivances and coincidences that proved that not to be the case - characters from the first book Shark Island turn up out of the blue, all seeming to lead to one problem after another for Hanna. Luckily this does eventually turn to the benefit of all of us, as we settle into the thrust of this story, but for a while I was thinking this did not need to be a sequel at all, and was only in an established series for commercial reasons.
That main thrust is a double-edged sword, as well. At times I could admire the verve of the story, with the sheer number of tense moments and cliff-hanging poises, before we were thrown further into the adventure. But too often I was aware of reading this in one pace, and a lot more room needed to be inserted here and there for pauses, intimacy, character, and just some relief from the pell-mell action.
That action did, however, provide for a solid read. There was a time early on I saw this as some inheritor to all those Willard Price adventure books the youth of my day were collecting, when we see animal behaviour as the get-out clause for our heroine. But the nature side of things soon turned to human nature, and on the whole this book tried to engage us with a complex moral issue, and swings in our thoughts about certain characters from purely evil to more acceptable.
I'm not sure that came across completely as the author wished, but I don't think the audience would worry too much. The testimony from test readers featured in my review copy all showed a glorious enthusiasm for the action and the drive of the plot, with eight to thirteen year olds all giving the cinematic scope of the drama two thumbs up.
There is a bit of me that accepts that as the right response, and to repeat I don't want to sound too negative, but I sought something a bit more finely crafted, with more poise to the people, pause in the action, and ultimately a lot more power for us all.
I must thank Oxford's kind people for sending me a review copy.
The drudgery on board the factory ship reminded me of the superlative X-isle by Steve Augarde, which also has young adults countering a nasty piratical boss, and does what I'd wished for here more successfully.
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