CM . . . . Volume XVI Number 41. . . .June 25, 2010.
Knights of the Sea. (The Wellborn Conspiracy, Book II).
Sackville, NB: Sybertooth, 2010.
254 pp., pbk., $15.00.
Grades 11 and up / Ages 16 and up.
Review by Ruth Latta.
"Paisley," he whispered. "Where are you?"
He nearly sprang away when a cold, wet hand grabbed his from out of the dark. It was below. It pulled him to his knees. He understood that Paisley was kneeling on the grass, shaking like her voice.
"Elliott, help me! I don't know..."
She threw her arms around his neck and held him with a drowner's grip. His mind reeled like a drunkard. Trying to comfort her in her sobbing and trembling, it took an age for his brain to register what his hands were telling it, that they were clasped around bare wet skin. And before the meaning of this could sink in, a bolt of lightning blazed in the clouds for an instant, revealing Paisley's body - in the second before the blackness closed over again - to be dripping with blood.
Knights of the Sea, Book II of “The Wellborn Conspiracy” series, takes place in Queen Victoria's Jubilee year, 1887, and opens with 16-year-old Elliott Graven travelling by train to Halifax, en route to his ultimate destination at Baddeck on Cape Breton Island, to join his friend, Paisley du Loup, for a holiday at her aunt's home. Elliott is troubled by recent events which occurred when he and his parents lived in Sporeville, the small town where a Professor Strange used fungi and mesmerism to indulge his lust for power and perverse science. (Sporeville is the title of Book I of “The Wellborn Conspiracy.”) Strange enslaved the town and meddled with Elliott's mother's mind:
Sometimes it was the slightest thing; when his mother spoke of his father and called him "professor" instead of "doctor." Other times it was the screams in the dead of night when she woke from one of her dreams. There were times when she forgot where... she was. And the black silent moods when she remembered too well.
Elliott's parents both approved of his taking a holiday: "Perhaps they'd wanted a holiday of their own from seeing that worry in his face every day."
On the train, Elliott finds a bomb on his bed and defuses it by cutting an electrical wire. He meets Sir John Thompson, Justice Minister and Attorney General of the Dominion of Canada, and the two establish a rapport. When Elliott is attacked, Thompson fights off his assailant.
Thompson is a historical figure, one of several listed in Paul Marlowe's cast of characters, including Alexander Graham Bell and Anna Leonowens of The King and I fame. It might have been interesting to see some of these real people more deeply involved in the plot; however, just as it is, the novel has multiple compelling features. It is a fast-paced blend of action-adventure, fantasy and historical novel, with the added elements of erudition, humour and wit. Marlowe's style is reminiscent of 19th century literature, yet timeless enough for a 21st century reader to grasp. A few trips to the dictionary never hurt anyone.
While the mad scientist (who experiments with plant spores, mesmerism, eugenics and electric shock treatments) is certainly a big enough villain for a novel, he is part of a larger picture which involves world politics - the growing imperial rivalry of the British and German empires. Associated with his element of the plot is Adelmo Von Hasselberg, a German industrialist with a submarine. He charms Paisley, much to the irritation of Elliott.
Subtly and cleverly, author Paul Marlowe educates readers about the politics and preoccupations of late 19th century Canada. One individual who uses a by-election campaign to publicize her cause is Mrs. Sowerby, a supporter of eugenics. She calls publicly for laws forbidding people with serious inherited medical conditions from having children. Her views remind Elliott of Professor Strange, and Elliott suggests publicly to Mrs. Sowerby that Queen Victoria would be "put out" if a law were passed that forbade the royal family to have children. Mrs. Sowerby is taken aback as Elliott explains that hemophilia, a disease which prevents blood clotting, has taken the life of Queen Victoria's son, Prince Leopold.
"It just doesn't seem very loyal," he adds, "to debate the passing of laws that would treat our own beloved Queen as though she were a cow - a cow that can't be bred because of a defect."
Elliott's primary focus, however, is on the evil Strange, who is vanquished after a serious of extraordinary events, including the appearance of werewolves, a sea journey, and a teenage wedding.
I look forward to Book III of “The Wellborn Conspiracy.”
Ottawa’s Ruth Latta is thrilled to have a story in Pam Chamberlain's Country Roads anthology which was just published in May 2010, by Nimbus.
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