Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Monster Odyssey: Eye of Neptune, by Jon Mayhew

Prince Dakkar, an heir to the Indian throne in an alternative 19th Century, is sent to England by his father to learn how to be a fearsome ruler and leader of people. His mentor and host, Count Oginski, a brilliant but unconventional inventor and engineer is determined that the Prince will not escape from him, as he has from every other school he has ever attended, gradually earning the Prince's trust over a period of years.

However, Dakkar is not the only person that is interested in the genius designs of his mysterious memento. When Oginski is kidnapped in the night and their housekeeper murdered, Dakkar vows to rescue to only friend he has ever had.  Commandeering his latest invention, a submersible clockwork sea-craft, Dakkar takes to the sea.  Braving gigantic sea squids, pirates, the formidable British Navy, sharks, giant, genetically modified monsters and the feisty temper of his discovered-along-the-way friend and accomplice Georgia.  Together, Dakkar and Georgia take on everything the ocean and its various inhabitants have to throw at them using the handy arsenal in their prototype submarine in their quest to rescue their brilliant mentors from the most dangerous man on land or sea.

I thought one of the particular strengths of this novel was the characterisation, which is really well developed and easy to relate to- both characters are convinced it's their mission and the other is the sidekick, which works well, both Dakkar and Georgia are not afraid to put themselves in danger and get their hands dirty- together they make quite an effective team.  They both learn a lot from each other and form a genuine bond that (thankfully) is never undermined by any sort of romantic element.    Dakkar, entitled and a bit egotistical learns the value of friendship and humility, as well as learning how to understand people and power, not just seizing it.

A really good, engaging and wonderfully old fashioned swashbuckling adventure story that is quite obviously inspired a good deal by Jules Verne.  Sea monsters, pirates, sword fights, explosions, unsavoury rogues and double (even triple) crossing.  The Eye of Neptune has an understandable, episodic narrative that sees Dakkar and Georgia stumbling pretty much from one deadly peril to another- it's definitely a page turner right up until the final showdown in an underground volcano with an evil megalomaniac intent on ruling the seas and lands of the world.

Whilst the book was enjoyable and fun, featured a really strong female character and had positive messages about doing the right thing, bravery and democracy, I can't help but have doubts about how popular it would prove with its target audience.  Though personally I found it charmingly old fashioned, I'm not sure if that would be a bit of a put-off to today's 11 year olds as the pirates or steampunk (or a combination of the two) isn't any kind of trend at the moment that I've noticed.  I hope I'm wrong though.

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