From the moment that I began to read this book I was off. McGahan’s writing style has that ability to transport you so deeply into the world of the character that you can’t help but daydream. His experiences of packing his bag and setting off were so reminiscent of my own that it was paragraphs later that I noticed that I had not been paying the slightest attention to what Dow – the book’s protagonist – was up to. His villages are alive with the sights and smells of daily life, his forests dark with a deep earthy aroma and his seaside towns so salt encrusted that you could preserve fish just by rubbing them on the walls of the local tavern.
This is adventure writing at its best. McGahan uses suspense masterfully to carry the story along but doesn’t leave you waiting too long for the payoff making it a rewarding read for the impatient. His characters are not particularly likeable but there is enough sexual tension to make you keep reading and the previously mentioned great scene setting is matched by frequent and exciting bursts of action. Best yet, McGahan’s story is not partronising and allows the reader to experience real and challenging events without saccharine reprieves.
Dow is a classic outsider. He doesn’t fit into the tree-felling mold of his birth and he doesn’t really fit into the monotonous seaside life that he thinks he is craving at the book’s outset. Like most seaborne adventurers, he is a loner with an ability. The book follows Dow as he defies convention, leaves his predetermined vocation and heads for the ocean, a path that takes him right to the gates of the infamous ship kings – a group of naval warlords who rule the ocean with their advanced technology and merciless application of ‘justice’.
The book is a great scene-setter for the next three novels in this series (and how McGahan will complete the rather ambitious foreshadowing contained in the prologue in four books is anyone’s guess) and sets high expectations for more great sea-faring adventure writing. A word of warning, Dow, as all seafarers from days-gone-by is a pretty enthusiastic drinker (in defiance of the government suggestions of delaying starting drinking for as long as possible for those between 17 and, well, death I suppose). Don’t let this put you off suggesting it to kids, just use it as an opportunity to talk to them about the impacts this will have on Dow’s brain’s development and how, if the story were more accurately written, the main piece of action may have been Nathaniel holding back Dow’s hair as he evacuates his stomach into the ocean.
The CBCA have introduced us to a fantastic new series in The Ship Kings and The Coming of the Whirlpool will entertain adventure seeking readers too old for Ranger’s Apprentice but not yet old enough for Master and Commander.
For some great teaching resources and reviews on The Coming of the Whirlpool, check out Allen & Unwin’s page here.