Following her first three Strong Winds books, Julia Jones has written a wonderful continuation of her children's adventure tales, this one centering on one of the lesser characters, Luke. Imaginative, bright & curious, Luke faces challenges that show him his own inner strength. Beginning with a serious injury to his father, leaving Luke unsupervised aboard a docked boat, the plot includes mystery, a trio of foreign characters with an agenda of revenge, and new friends, both young and old. Jones uses a little-known historical event, the Battle of Sole Bay, in which the Dutch attacked English ships. Basing some of the modern-day action of the tale on that event, Jones brings a connection between real history & her well-written, strong story. Luke's inner thoughts are familiar, reminding us of our own young teen years; worrying about his ability to handle the responsibilities he is taking on, wishing he had done things differently, and wondering if the events unfolding are somehow his fault. Throughout a series of unexpected twists, Luke pulls on his inner strength, finds & works with new allies, and succeeds in the end. Jones' writing has matured as she has added to the series. This is a book filled with complex ideas, deep connections and clear, strong narrative. Scenes near the end of the book, aboard a boat attempting to cross the North Sea in stormy weather, are outstanding. Reviews of Jones' earlier books have mentioned a connection to the writing of Arthur Ransome. In The Lion of Sole Bay, we are once again aboard a small boat on the storm-ridden North Sea, as in Ransome's We Didn't Mean to go to Sea. As well. her antagonist, a revenge-crazed woman from the Netherlands, reminds us of Missee Lee, Ransome's Chinese pirate leader. Missee Lee redeems herself by showing her humanistic side at the end of the book by the same name; Jones' Elsevier does not, making her one of a long list of characters one would rather not meet on a dark night. This book is appropriate for middle-school ages and up. Be sure to read the Sole Bay Lectures included at the end of the book to understand the story even better!
Luke wasn't going away with his mother and brother at half-term. He was planning on spending it with his father restoring an old fishing boat on Fynn Creek. His mother dropped him off on her way to the airport and he sped away to the boat to wait for his father. Angel needed excitement and that was how she ended up in the locked boatyard with some lads and it was their larking around which knocked the prop from under a boat which then toppled and trapped a workman. The lads dashed away with Angel's screams to ring for an ambulance ringing in their ears. Angel stayed with the man until she heard the sirens. The man was Luke's father.
We've met Luke before in the Strong Winds Trilogy and we certainly know the area around Fynn Creek and the River Deben, but this time we're going to dig a little deeper as the story is based on research into the provenance of a carved figure which has been a Suffolk pub sign for about three hundred years. It was originally from a warship which was captured in the course of the Battle of Sole Bay in 1672. In our story it seems that the animosity which arose from the battle between the English and the Dutch hasn't entirely worked itself out and the women living on the boat berthed next to Luke on Fynn Creek seem not to be quite as innocent as they would have everyone believe.
Julia Jones is an exceptional author but she has two great strengths when it comes to writing adventure books for tweens. She understands boys in the pre-teen age group and brings them off the page brilliantly. When you read about Luke you willknow him. He's not yet a man but he's certainly not a boy any longer and he's got all the strengths and insecurities which go with the territory. He's a wonderful creation and you want to hug him but sense that you might have to settle for a manly punch on the shoulder. I loved Angel too - the girl who can't seem to do right but who has a sense of what's right which could shame many adults. I particularly felt for her parents, who so want to do their best for their daughter but who must feel that they're fighting a losing battle on occasions.
Her other strength is water. She never dumbs down when she's talking about boats or the water on which they sail (or any other time, actually!) and you'll sense exactly what it's like to be in a boat, whether it's in a kayak in the calm water of Fynn Creek or an out-of-control boat on the North Sea. Add to this an adventure story which had me biting my nails and some elegant twists and turns in the story all accompanied by wonderful illustrations from Claudia Myatt and I'm sure that you'll understand why I feel more than a little bit enthusiastic about the book! I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to the Bookbag.
The Strong winds Trilogy begins with The Salt-Stained Book. If you haven't read it, you really should.