CM . . .
. Volume XX Number 15. . . .December 13, 2013
Seas of South Africa is the sixth adventure about a young man who builds his own submarine and sails it around the world. It begins when Alfred encounters a particularly nasty pirate off the coast of Mozambique. Alfred escapes in his submarine, but, worried about what the pirate will do, Al follows him to Mozambique Island. The first pirate is murdered by a gang of other pirates who steal something from him. When the murderers go off to celebrate, Al tows their boat full of guns and drugs out to sea and sinks it. He keeps a bag full of cash and treasure. The pirates chase him down the east coast of Africa, but they cannot find the submarine.
Al’s next encounter is with Los, a young African man flying a small plane he built that is powered with vegetable oil. He runs out of fuel and crashes in the ocean, and Al rescues him. Al returns him to South Africa where they use some of the pirate money to buy a motorcycle and travel to Los’s friend’s home in Ladysmith, meeting some angry elephants on the way.
Los and Al then travel to the dangerous township of Soweto where Los hopes to see his sister. When Los is beaten, Al rescues him again and brings him back to Ladysmith.
Al returns to his submarine. He has another run-in with the pirates who are attacking a small diving boat. Al accidentally rams the pirate boat which sinks. The grateful diver refers Al to his friend in the South African navy who is searching for these pirates. In return for saving the diver and giving them info on the pirates, Al gets South African registration papers for his sub. He is no longer an outlaw.
Seas of South Africa is the darkest episode yet in the adventures found in “The Submarine Outlaw” series. These books are action-packed, exciting reads, but, as the series has progressed, it has been dealing with heavier, more thought-provoking themes. Philip Roy doesn’t flinch from portraying the worst of mankind. In Seas of South Africa, Al witnesses murder, piracy, corruption, mob violence, desperate poverty—much of which is the legacy of Apartheid. Al struggles to know the right thing to do in response to the evil he sees; his curiosity, responsibility, justice and caution all pull him in different directions, and he makes decisions that are not always the wisest. He also encounters courage, kindness, vision and honour in the people he meets, and the contrast is powerful. In the end, Roy does not offer easy solutions, but he suggests the power of individuals to make a difference.
Roy’s descriptions of each part of the world Al visits are particularly vivid, and he brings many contrasting faces of Africa to life: beauty and squalor, desolation and human industry, majestic wilderness and treacherous seas. He touches on some of the history that has made south and east Africa what it is, from slavery and Apartheid to the story of Nelson Mandela—always in the context of Al’s adventures so it never feels like a history lesson.
The character of Los provides another voice through which Roy can expound about climate change and environmental damage. He verges on being preachy, but Los is a distinct enough character to be believable while ranting about fossil fuels. Los’s sudden desire to build a submarine is less explicable since he lives inland and is passionate about airplanes. But the friendship between Al and Los is convincingly drawn.
Roy reveals a streak of black humour with the clever way he uses the pirate money. Blood-spattered, smelly and requiring literal laundering, it effectively symbolizes money’s potential for great evil and great good.
“The Submarine Outlaw” series began as good middle-grade selections, but, as Al’s character grows and his adventures get more dangerous, the later books in the series are appropriate for an older audience, despite the colorful covers. Seas of South Africa could easily be used in a high school Social Studies class, and teenage boys will definitely enjoy it if they can be persuaded to open it. (Murderous pirates on the cover would sell it better.) It can be read as a stand-alone, and for older teens this would probably be the most appealing book to begin the series, but the series as a whole traces a compelling character arc. Anyone who has been following Alfred around the world won’t want to miss his adventures in Africa.
Kim Aippersbach is a writer, editor and mother of three in Vancouver, BC.
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other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.