________________ CM . . . . Volume XII Number 16 . . . .April 14, 2006


The Strange Voyage of the Raconteur.

J.C. Mills.
Toronto, ON: Key Porter Books, 2005.
243 pp., pbk., $15.95.
ISBN 1-55263-719-0.

Grades 7-10 / Ages 12-15.

Review by Jen Waters.

** /4



"Well, let's see now," he said, chomping down on the end of a celery stick. "Which tale should I tell you first? What do you think? I suppose I could start at the beginning", he continued. "That's always a good place, isn't it?"

I nodded. "Sounds okay to me."

I glanced down and slowly turned my wrist in toward me, trying to read the time on my watch without drawing his attention. How long was all of this going to take? I looked back up at Zen, but he was just sitting there, silently staring out at the water, making no attempt to begin any stories as far as I could tell. It was as if he were completely lost in his thoughts. The whole thing was starting to get nuts, I decided. I shifted forward in my seat and placed my hands on my knees, preparing to stand up.

"You know, I really think I should be ..."

"Ever heard of the Grail, Joseph?" Zen suddenly blurted out, his blue eyes staring intently into my own.

And for the second time that morning, I felt a strange tingling sensation slowly make its way up my spine.


Sixteen-year-old Joe has spent most of his teenage years at the local marina in a small town on the shores of the Great Lakes, helping with boats but never sailing himself. He goes there to escape school, his family and his future. One day, Joe meets Zen, a strange sailor who appears to be an aging hippie, when Zen docks his boat, the Raconteur, in the marina. Spending time after school with Zen, Joe discovers that Zen is no ordinary skipper for he has sailed around the world in his boat and has many stories to tell of his journeys. Joe is intrigued by references to Pitcairn Island and the Bounty, the Olmecs and the Mayans, and the great Flood, but it is the tale of the Holy Grail and its legendary ties to the Knights Templar that hooks Joe immediately. Zen imparts the long-suffering tale of the Zeno brothers protecting the Grail from evil-doers and natural disaster, and he eventually reveals a connection between Joe and his mother that Joe never would have imagined (but this reviewer did).

     When Zen teaches Joe how to sail, Joe must go through a number of trials before he can prove himself, including a sudden fog and a modern-day pirate, but Joe survives and not only overcomes his fears but also accepts his destiny. Joe is also a Zeno, and one day he will sail around the world and protect the secret of the Grail as Zen did for many years.

     Mills' skill for storytelling is quickly evident in this epic story in which there are beautifully detailed descriptive passages that not only promote Mills' firm grasp for the English language but also give the story a unique tone. Zen is much more than a master storyteller; he is the Indiana Jones of his time and would be a great candidate for a series of movies. That being said, The Strange Voyage of the Raconteur is more than a little far fetched and at times quite predictable. It would be a great novel study for a high school history class as it thoroughly discusses many seafaring myths that may or may not have actually taken place throughout history.

     Another problematic area in The Strange Voyage of the Raconteur is the issue of age appeal. While the story is full of fantastic yarns and an "adventure at sea" feel that would normally attract younger readers, the way in which it is written and told would likely appeal more to adults than to the teens at which it has been directed. There may be a few older teen boys who would delight in its epic structure, but it has been my experience that those teens who are wise beyond their years would usually rather read an adult book than a teen book. Mills has proven her craftsmanship with this novel but may fail to find an audience for it.

Recommended with reservations.

Jen Waters is the Teen Services Librarian at the Red Deer Public Library in Red Deer, AB.

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

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