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  • Writer's pictureLaura Perry

Book Review: The Flying Dutchman - Bleak Future

The Flying Dutchman. As a kid, I read a story or two about the legendary ghost ship, but the tales always focused on the ship rather than the humans. So I wasn't honestly sure what to expect when I began this book.

Except, of course, that it would be a gripping story with fabulous characters. I'd already read Visser's Escape from Neverland and its sequel, Dance into the Wyrd, so I knew that he's a great writer with a unique voice and a vivid imagination.

What I discovered in The Flying Dutchman: Bleak Future was a beautifully fashioned story grounded in 17th century Dutch history but enlivened with creativity and vision. Bear with me - it's hard to review this book without spoilers, because the plot has a lot of twists and turns. Maybe I'll just stick to talking about the characters.

Though you could call this book's set of characters an ensemble cast, one in particular stands out as something of a star: Liselotte Haelen. Fifteen-year-old daughter of a painfully conservative and repressive physician, twin sister of Andries Haelen, cousin of VOC Commodore Peter Haelen, friend to the beleaguered, amorous interest to seagoers, and danger to Spaniards.

She's the type of character reviewers like to describe as "spunky" or "feisty." But I think that if you called her that to her face, especially after one of the particularly bad days in the book, she'd take a few moments deciding whether to load her crossbow, draw her dagger, or call in a favor from some brawny sailors she happens to know. But she's too busy solving problems and escaping the repression of 17th century society to spend too long being annoyed with you. So if you duck away quickly, you'll probably escape injury. Probably.

Between keeping her emotionally immature brother from causing too many problems, acting as a medic even though she's <gasp> female, and trying to keep herself and others from being killed during wartime, she stays pretty busy. The rest of the characters (humans plus several boats and ships) stay equally busy, and sooner or later they all appreciate Liselotte's value in their lives.

But what about the Flying Dutchman, the famous ship, you ask? She figures in the story as well, though I don't want to give away too much. Let's just say she's very real, extremely controversial, and has the power to save lives - or at least, one life.

I really enjoyed the bits of Dutch terminology thrown in for flavor - especially the slang - and all of it was helpfully footnoted with explanations. I will admit to using Google Translate to figure out how to pronounce them!

I also love that this novel is something of a legacy, inspired by a book the author's great-grand-uncle wrote about the Flying Dutchman more than a century ago.

This is one of the few "grown-up" books I've read that includes interior illustrations, and the experience leads me to wish that more "grown-up" books had pictures inside. In addition to the marvelous cover art by Tom and Nimue Brown of Hopeless, Maine fame, the interior is generously illustrated by Julie Gorringe. The art definitely adds to the feeling of the story, the historical presence, if you will.

There is blood and gore and violence, though not in amounts that are unreasonable given the time and place of the story (it's not a gentle story, though it is satisfying in the end). There's also a bit of sex, most of it not too graphic.

All in all, I quite enjoyed this one. I got to watch characters (more than one) grow and develop and deal with challenges great and small, not always successfully but always realistically, even given the imaginative elements the author has thrown in to add a little more sparkle to the tale. I felt like I was there in the 17th century right along with Liselotte and the others. And I'm looking forward to the next book in the trilogy.

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