A mute boy stows away aboard the infamous Flying Dutchman, where he is put to work and given the name Nebuchadnezzar. Between the heartless Captain Vanderdecken and his cruel crew, Neb is the only innocent on the entire ship, until he rescues a black Labrador from Denmark. The Labrador, whom the boy names after the country in which he was found, becomes a trusted companion and only friend. Together the two witness mutiny, murder and starvation as Vanderdecken madly attempts to pass Cape Horn in order to satisfy his greed. Finally, Vanderdecken vehemently curses Heaven for his failures and an angel appears, sentencing Vanderdecken and his crew to wander the seas for eternity. Recognising the pure hearts of the boy and his dog, the angel tells them that though they too shall wander ageless until the world’s end, their mission is to spread hope and goodness wherever they are led. The three books in the series follow this unlikely pair on their eternal journey as they change their names, save towns, brave the seas and combat evil in all its forms.
I will be the first to admit that I am not a fan of talking animal characters, so the fact that the Castaways series was written by the author of Redwall meant little to me. However, the first few pages of Castaways successfully put aside any prejudices I may have had. The highly original plot flows smoothly, each book containing a fair share of twists, turns and moral lessons. Jacques’ writing style is almost lyrical in parts and the language resembles that which is used for reciting legends and epic poetry. The result of his mix of poetry and prose is an example of storytelling all too rare in today’s world where books tend to simply emote rather than inspire.
The relationship between Nebuchadnezzar and Denmark, otherwise known as Ben and Ned, is often heart-warming. They serve as anchors for each other in times of need and are drawn close not only due to the amount of years they spend together, but due to the knowledge of the beautiful angel and the mission that they share. In the clearly illustrated fight between good and evil, both of the chief characters show Jacques’ readers as well as the other characters in the books what being “good” really means. Honesty, humility, loyalty, faith and love are well illustrated and held up as both acquirable and desirable. The author touches some basic religious themes without really delving into them, but he does so from a positive angle and with a simplicity that is, in a word, charming.
I would highly recommend this series for both boys and girls, especially if they enjoy movies such as The Pirates of the Caribbean. Jacques’ characters are also a welcome change from the vampires, werewolves and secret agents that seem to take over the shelves these days.
Maryana Garcia is the eldest of four sisters. A University Student at the University of Auckland, New Zealand, she plans to major in History and is currently an employee at the Mount Albert Community Library.