________________ CM . . . . Volume XV Number 11 . . . . January 23, 2009

cover Ghosts of James Bay.

John Wilson.
Toronto, ON: Sandcastle/Dundurn, 2008.
119 pp., pbk., $11.99.
ISBN 978-1-55002-827-0.

Subject Headings:
Ghosts-James Bay Region-Juvenile fiction.
Hudson, Henry, d. 1611-Juvenile fiction.

Grades 7-10 / Ages 12-15.

Review by Andrea Galbraith.

** /4


I knew the danger I was in. I knew the mistakes I had made: not paying enough attention to the weather, not wearing long pants, not bringing something to eat. But I wasn't too worried. Hypothermia wouldn't be a problem for five or six hours, longer if I didn't overdo it or fall overboard. Surely the sun would burn off this unusual fog long before then. I focused on steady, regular paddling, gazing straight ahead even though I could see nothing but grey beyond the prow. For half an hour I kept this up, hoping I was heading to shore.

Then the fog parted. It didn't roll back in a process reversing the one that had engulfed me, but rather it withdrew all at once. The view shocked me deeply. Wherever I looked, the surface of the bay was dotted with patches of white. They were so unexpected that it took me a minute to realize what they were. Ice floes at the beginning of September, especially after the hot summer we'd had, were impossible. Yet there they were. I stopped paddling. As I did, my eye was drawn from the ice floes to an even weirder sight. The fog was still thinning, but now it seemed to draw in on itself at a point in front of the canoe. As it did, it gave the impression that it was thickening and solidifying into the shape of a ship.

Fourteen-year-old Al Lister feels uneasy as he paddles into the thick fog along the shores of James Bay, but his sense of foreboding canít prepare him for the shocking sight of the 17th-century ship Discovery appearing before him. He arrives at the moment of the mutiny where Henry Hudson, his son, Jack, and a few other crew members are put off the vessel. When Al realizes that he can talk to and be understood by the stranded men, he accepts that they are not apparitions, and he joins them and tries to explain where he is from. They ask him to lead them back to Ottawa, and he agrees to try. As they prepare to leave, a party of Iri-akhoiw (Iriquois) warriors attacks the camp, and the two boys and Staffe flee, leaving the older and sickly crew members behind. After attempting to escape through the bush and along the shore, they are captured by the warriors. They have already seen one of their fellow crew members scalped and are desperate to escape the stockade. Al sees a way out, but it will mean completing a rock climb that he had previously been unable to conquer. He is hesitant but realizes that this may be the only way to help himself, his friends, and find a way back to his own time.

     Ghosts of James Bay uses the time travel device to frame a historical fiction tale with scenes from the present day. This approach allows the author to use a 21st-century narrator and also to give commentary and perspective on historical events from a modern point of view. The cause of the time travel and the method of its execution remain mysterious, but the transitions are handled well enough to keep the reader engaged.

     The narration is shared between Al's first person account and the third-person point of view of a Cree warrior who observes the strangers and what befalls them. Al's voice is consistent, but both his language and his thought processes are often too adult for his age. The warrior's characterization is strong, and his passages are among the most readable in the book, but itís unclear why so many pages are given over to his observations of the other characters. He has a role to play, but itís primarily in the last part of the book.

     The book is densely plotted, and the plot lines are all resolved by the end of the book. The final chapters of attack, escape, and Al's return to his own time are gripping and eventful. Unfortunately, the exposition early in the book that sets up the story and characters has a devastating effect on the pace of the book. The first two chapters deal primarily with Al's father and his work as an archaeologist. These facts are important for the story, but too many pages are spent on his character and situation, especially as he has little place in the rest of the book. Establishing the back story takes too long and is done rather transparently, often with a character asking for information from other characters. Al lacks historical knowledge when it's convenient for him to ask for information; at other times, he is the informant, full of details about Hudson's journeys and crew which he has apparently retained from doing a school project on the subject. The most ponderous point in the book is when Al helpfully asks Hudson about his journey, and Hudson responds with a long account that fills several pages.

     Ghosts of James Bay has an interesting premise and deals with a fascinating point in Canadian history. The author clearly knows the subject very well, and the time period is evoked realistically. Unfortunately, because of the amount of historical detail, the fictional elements often feel like a hook to give the reader an extended history lesson. This novel can only be recommended for those passionate about Canadian history.

Recommended with reservations.

Andrea Galbraith is a student librarian and writer from Vancouver, BC.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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