Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Voyage of Slaves

Voyage of Slaves, by Brian Jacques
$7.99 at Amazon.com
ISBN: 978-0441015283
Brian Jacques, in case you're not familiar with him, is the author of dozens of delightful fantasy-fiction novels: kind of like Lord of the Rings, but lighter and easier. Some of them are written for children, some for teens, and others for adults.
This one is fun for ages 12 and up, perfectly acceptable for grown-ups. It takes place in the early 18th Century, and begins on board the famous ship the Flying Dutchman. According to the legend (and the opera), the vessel's captain and crew are cursed to sail for all eternity: never growing old, and never reaching land. Sounds dreadful.
The ship's cabin boy is our young hero, a fourteen-year-old named Ben. He and a Labrador dog called Ned are the only innocents on boards, so they are allowed to go free. But there's a catch. The two will never age, can understand any language, and communicate with one another telepathically.
Our story joins them adrift in the Mediterranean Sea. Poor Ben is captured by an infamous Arabic slave trader. Ned is somewhat more fortunate to be rescued by a traveling circus. Naturally, the two are reunited, and we share in their adventures.
Ben's ability to understand other languages really helped move the story along. The cast of impoverished but caring circus performers is a treat which kept things upbeat; and the setting brought lots of exciting showdowns with double-crossers, pirates, sharks, and dozens of other terrors on the high seas.
I felt an instant connection with Ben. He's a bright boy, loyal to his friends, and brave when called by danger. The dog gives him a friendly sidekick, and the banter between the two is entertaining. He gets to travel a lot of interesting places, which makes me envious, but often does so in the company of his slave-trader, which makes it less appealing.
The slave trader, Al Misurata, is especially fascinating: evil on one level, but complex. Ben and Ned are occasionally forced to cooperate with him and his behavior may surprise you.
This book is so much fun! From the same cloth as Treasure Island and other such boyhood classics, the adventures of a boy and his dog wandering through the most beautiful ports of Europe
is a sure-fire hit. I hope you enjoy this, or one of Brian Jacques' other fine books.

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