Monday, 27 January 2014

Island of Thieves, by Josh Lacey

Sent to stay with his Uncle Harvey whilst his parents enjoy a child-free holiday,  Tom Trelawney thinks he's in for an exciting week in London.  What he doesn't expect is a whirlwind trip to Peru, thrown into a dangerous and highly unstable situation with gangsters, thugs and thieves.  Convinced he's on the trail of something valuable, Harvey has just one problem (aside from a gang of ruthless criminals on his trail)- the document that he's convinced is a treasure map doesn't actually describe the location of the gold.  So, his first task is to track down the rest of the journal that describes the voyage of the Pelican, the ship of the famous explorer Francis Drake.  But where is the rest of the journal?  After 400 years will the treasure still even be there?  And can Tom and Uncle Harvey evade Peru's most notorious criminal  long enough to actually find the gold?

I really enjoyed Island of Thieves- it reminded me a bit of one of my favorite guilty pleasure films, National Treasure- an unlikely treasure hidden behind riddles preserved in a historically significant document. It's well written, narrated by the likable Tom who can never quite believe what he has gotten himself messed up in- resigned to his demise one moment, determined to accomplish his mission the next.  Quite cinematic in style, the book doesn't focus excessively on description, choosing instead to focus on the action and on Tom's thoughts and feelings, which means that the reader feels like they get to know him well.  The book feels like a re imagining of some of the old fashioned swashbuckling adventure stories, but with guns and organised crime instead of swords and the British Navy.  The author strikes an excellent balance between exciting peril and unraveling mystery, but without too much suffering and violence which I think would give it a broader appeal.

Tom makes an interesting and likable narrator and a good character overall.  Getting stuck into the biggest adventure of his life and then kind of regretting it when it looks like he will probably die (by accident, then murder) and probably never being found by his parents at all.  As the storyteller, his thoughts are readily available to the reader, his admiration for his uncle, as well as his concern for his apparent lack of common sense or sense of adult responsibility are expressed well and does a lot to flesh out the characters of Tom and Harvey at the same time.  Harvey, the reckless but charismatic adventurer that can talk his way out of anything finds his nephew an unexpected asset on the trip, and the two of them make a good (if unlikely) team. The bad guys are stock pantomime villains and a bit two dimensional, but it's not really about them and they do serve a purpose, even if it is to be menacing and villainous.

Another really enjoyable adventure story- I haven't read a good buried treasure story for ages!  A slightly far fetched but swift and twisty plot that that is delivered a way that doesn't seem too absurd at the time.  I loved how Tom's research and reading of the journal brought history to life right infront of him and how excited he was as he made discoveries and connections that went back to the 1500s.  It was refreshing to read something that was simply an exciting adventure, rather than a book that tackled an issue or taught a lesson.  Don't get me wrong, I like lessons and issues, but a book that is just fun is sometimes very welcome.

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