"Mood inconsistancies generate mixed feelings for this YA fantasy"
In Copenhagen, 1620 A.D., a mute boy is trying to escape
his stepbrothers' pursuit. Since his mother's death soon
after he was born, he has been treated as a slave by his
stepfather, and he is determined to escape or die. The
older boys corner him on a wharf, and one accidentally
knocks him into the cold sea.
He saves himself by grabbing onto a rope trailing from a
departing ship and climbs aboard. Unfortunately, he is on
THE FLYING DUTCHMAN which is starting the voyage which
will damn its captain and crew to sale the seven seas
Neb, as he's now dubbed, begins an even worse life of
slavery at the hands of the brutal crew and the ship's
captain. At the next port, Neb gains a friend--an abused
Black Lab--and hides the dog on the ship.
Driven by greed and hubris, the captain is determined to
circle Cape Horn in the dead of winter. The crew, already
mutinous, knows few ships have ever managed to survive
this route, and they begin to plot the captain's
In three failed attempts to round the Cape, the captain
arrogantly curses the laws of men, the laws of nature, and
finally the laws of God. An angel appears and damns the
captain and crew to eternal life aboard their cursed ship.
As this happens, a wave sweeps the boy and his dog
They save each other, and the angel tells them that she
has spared them because they are innocent. However, they
will also have immortality, and they must travel the world
helping others. They will not be able to stay in a place
once they hear a bell.
Neb is given his voice, a natural ability at languages,
and his greatest gift -- telepathic communication with his
The next section of the book is essentially another novel.
It is now the late Victorian period in England. Neb who
now calls himself Ben and his dog Ned come to the
charming, rustic village of Chapelvale. The village will
soon be destroyed to make way for a crooked company's lime
mining site and concrete factory. The only way to save the
town is to find the original land grant which deeded the
whole area to one family.
Ben and Ned befriend several of the local inhabitants, and
they band together to solve the two-hundred-year-old
mystery of what happened to the original deed. What
follows is a treasure hunt with clues leading to other
clues. Gradually, most of the good people in the town are
part of the great treasure hunt.
Brian Jacques, who writes the popular REDWALL fantasy
series, has an interesting premise for a YA series here,
but this book with its two sections has wildly different
tones. The first section aboard ship is tense and
frightening, and the crew and captain are brutal. The
language isn't graphic, of course, but the cruelty and
violence is. Ben and his dog are more survivors than
The second half of the book in Chapelvale is light and
often funny with the treasure mystery and Ben's easy
victories over the young bullies as the prime plot. Ben is
now well-educated and has gained considerable knowledge of
the world and himself in his almost three hundred years of
doing good deeds.
Certain of himself and his dog's ability to handle any
situation, he has no fear of failing or of the villains'
actions. His success isn't in question so the reader has
only Ben and his friends' answers to the treasure riddles
to keep the novel interesting. In the ageless body of a
young boy, Ben is now an angelic superhero with the mind
and emotions of an adult.
Ned, the Black Lab, is much more interesting than Ben, and
his comments about humans and the animals around him are
the highlight of the novel.
The book would have been far better if the author had
remained in the first time period, and we could have seen
Ben's gradual change from a frightened, ignorant child to
the confident young man of the later books.
A second book in this series, THE ANGEL'S COMMAND: A TALE
FROM THE CASTAWAYS OF THE FLYING DUTCHMAN, is also
Reviewed for PNR Reviews by
Marilynn Byerly, Author
November 22, 2004
Reviewed by PNR Group Member
Posted April 22, 2006