05 May, 2009
Book Review: Castaways of the Flying Dutchman by Brian Jacques
Publish Date: 2001
Publisher: Philomel Books
Binding Type: Hardcover
The Flying Dutchman.
A name that brings fear to the hearts of all who hear of the cursed ship. A name which is still known throughout the centuries. A ship that even now is reported seen sailing the waters around Cape Horn. But no one really knows how the curse began. What caused The Flying Dutchman and its crew, captained by the feared Captain Vanderdecken, to be set on its eternal voyage across the seas?
When a nameless boy is found half dead and half frozen on the back of the Flying Dutchman, no one believes he will recover. The boy, claimed by the ship’s cook as a galley boy overcomes his deadly encounter in the harbor. Mute and homeless, the boy is christened Neb. He spends his days cooking and serving the captain and his rough crew. During one of the ship’s last stopovers in Europe, Neb rescues a half-starved dog. Together, the two witness Captain Vanderdecken’s decent into madness & the curse put on the ship by a vengeful angel. The two friends are swept overboard, saved from the curse by the same angel.
The angel grants the pair immortality, and the instructions that they are to roam the earth to help those in need. The friends brave the ages, and in their travels end up in the village of Chapelvale. This sleepy English village is threatened by the industrial progress covering the country. Its location above a vast limestone deposit, makes it a target for greedy men, with a planned quarry and cement factory where the town currently stands.
Neb – now called Ben- befriends several of the villagers. With their help he discovers an ancient riddle that could save the village. But there are only seven days before the machinery arrives, and the houses are sold. Can Ben, his faithful canine companion and the villagers helping the pair unravel the riddles and discover the hidden secrets in time to save Chapelvale from its impending doom?
I’ve been reading books by this author for years. I first stumbled onto Redwall my senior year of high school over a decade ago and kept reading the books as I could find them and as they were published. I don’t know that I’ve read every single book in the series. It’s gotten quite huge over the last five or six years. But They are comfortable books that I tend to check out from the library every few years to reread. So when I say Castaways of the Flying Dutchman on the entryway bargain shelf at the Borders by my work I was instantly intrigued. I bought the book hoping to read it, and pass it onto friends of mine who collect Brian Jacques’s works. I usually pass along copies of his books that I stumble across to younger readers rather than keeping them in our limited book shelves. It took me two weeks of walking by the store during lunch before I bought it. I had finished my commute book that morning and needed something to read on the train trip home.
I was amazed with the book! I found myself drawn into a richly written story. The pages flew by and I found myself wanting more of Ben and Neb’s adventures when the pages closed. I think that in my opinion this is probably one of Brian Jacques’ best novels. It introduces a well known subject – the doomed ship The Flying Dutchman and introduces the story with a twist. It is told from the viewpoint of a pair of survivors of the curse. Through their innocence and joy the pair of friends survive the curse the rest of the ship falls under. Through the angel’s love for them they are given a chance to live long and fruitful lives. Though Ben and Neb are haunted by their experiences of the Flying Dutchman, they are able to step past the fear that ruled their lives on the doomed ship and become stewards of love and friendship throughout the ages.
This is my highest form of praise. The copy I bought will go into my permanent collection of young adult books. Two days after I bought my copy, I found myself walking into Borders and buying three more copies. One to pass on to the friends I originally planned on sharing the book with, and two to pass along in a book giveaway here in the near future. I was reminded why I fell in love with the author’s writing the first time I picked up Redwall and Mossflower, and why I continue to return to re-read his books even now many years since then.
I’ve learned this is the first book in a trilogy. The second and third books in the series, The Angel's Command and Voyage of Slaves, were published in 2003 and 2006 respectively. I look forwards to finding and reading these titles as well.