Monday, January 29, 2007

A fantastic action-thriller

"Hunters of the Dark Sea" (2003) is a fantastic action-thriller. The War of 1812 rages on land and sea. The dark seas of the world are full of hunters of every sort. Some of them hunt whales, some of them hunt merchant ships, some of them hunt scientific truth, but one of them, a great infected whale, hunts human flesh. First Mate Ethan Swain's hunt becomes a quest that leads the whaling ship Reliant halfway around the world to a forsaken point in the deep Pacific Ocean. There he discovers that the difference between the hunter and the hunted is razor thin.

This story isn't "Moby Dick". Here the seas are real and the seamanship authentic. Rather than a chapter on the symbolic nature of the color white, "Hunters of the Dark Sea" has pitching wooden decks, the smoke of broadside cannons fired in volleys, white capped waves and wind-filled canvas sails. Metaphor, madness and allegory are traded for a fast read of action, adventure and discovery. "Hunters of the Dark Sea" is more akin to the 1924 Newbery Medal winner "The Dark Frigate" by Charles Boardman Hawes. "Hunters of the Dark Sea" might have been a competitor for that very award if not for the graphic depiction of naval combat, medical gore, and the seventy nine years separating them.

The only shortcoming of this fine story is that it has no mythic theme, no symbolic restatement of a fundamental truth - might does not make right. The point it does make is powerful, but stated so subtly that it almost passes without notice. That is, might makes monstrous rather than right. The scale up of violence from simple fishing to whale killing, to killing a person, to killing a ship full of people is so natural that its logical progression merely depends upon the order of arrival of the hunters of the dark seas. Maybe that's too similar to a story being told in the evening news to be commercial. Then again, maybe not.

The greatest strength of this story is in its telling. It's a very good read, fantastically entertaining, and so filled with wet salt air that you'll need a towel before the final page. Plot a course with "Hunters of the Dark Sea" and log the journey. Find the (hidden secret?) latitude and longitude waypoints along the way. You'll be glad you did.


Katie said...

I enjoyed this one. The hand getting cut off didn't bother me like it did some people. It had some great images in it.

Great review Don! :)

Ron Simpson said...

I loved this book. I suggested to Mel that he write sequals with the descendants working for the US government as alien investigators. The original "Black" organization.

Bill said...

Great review. This book is one of my all time favorites. I would also like to see a sequal.