- Hardcover: 400 pages
- Publisher: Tor Books (July 2003)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0765304805
- ISBN-13: 978-0765304803
- Product Dimensions: 23.1 x 16.5 x 3.3 cm
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,414,853 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Mutiny, revenge and a mysterious creature from the deep are all heaped upon our hero and his crew as they also fight against all the harsh elements that the heavens, ocean and a sea-fearing job can bring. The author's well-woven tale brings you aboard as if you're serving next to Ethan, with a cast of rich and unforgettable characters that you will love, despise, cheer for and fear.
You'll also meet Professor Bullock and his young daughter Katherine, who have been sent by the President to find out more of the creature called "Death-in-the-Water." The only two to survive an attack by looters, they meet up with Ethan and together must wage war against the British, pirates from Ethan's past and the creature that hunts them all.
The Booklist review says "recommended for all collections," but I'd augment that suggestion, because this book should be immediately purchased and put on the top of your reading list so that you can say you were the first to serve with Ethan Swain, a name that's permanently bound with adventure!
In this novel, the whaler Reliant has been away from Nantucket for two years and the crew is about ready to mutiny against their arrogant Captain and his vicious Second Mate. Ethan Swain, the First Mate, is caught between the crew and the Captain, too aware of his checkered past to risk any charge of mutiny. However, a planted weapon and a crooked judgment against one of his own boat crew triggers a confrontation that leads the accused thief being shot and falling overboard. Ethan dives into the water after the man, despite the numerous sharks attracted by the blood and offal from the ongoing whale butchery. Although the sharks get the accused thief, Ethan exposes the rigged search and gets the Captain to brig the treacherous Second Mate.
At about the same time, the science ship Brown-Eyed Sue is anchored off Easter Island when a dying man washes ashore. From the condition of his body, the man apparently has been injected with a necrotic venom and is literally falling apart as they try to save his life. Professor Bullock and his daughter Katherine are on the ship to perform an update of his previous sperm whale survey conducted 16 years past, but Professor Bullock is also charged with investigating tales and incidences regarding a deadly monster in the sea. From the natives on Easter Island, the Professor learns that the thing they call Death-In-the-Water first appeared in the area about the time that a falling star splashed into the ocean nearby.
Jonah McAfee is a pirate who has unfinished business with Ethan Swain. He experiences an attack by a rogue sperm whale and recovers an eviscerated sailor who was taken from the Brown-Eyed Sue by the monster. McAfee sees the monster as an opportunity for wealth beyond his wildest dreams and sails after the Brown-Eyed Sue.
In this story, something has come from outer space, is living in the sea, and has acquired an appetite for men. Sounds like a combination of Campbell's Who Goes There? and Well's War of the Worlds, with maybe a touch of Anthony's Spider Legs. This story also has a enraged captain swearing to hunt down a rogue sperm whale, much like Melville's Moby Dick. However, this story has some anachronistic aspects.
The story takes place about a decade prior to Charles Darwin sailing to the same area in the HMS Beagle. Darwinian theories produced the notion of extraterrestrial evolution as a corollary to terrestrial evolution; previously, only God and the angels occupied heaven. Three decades after the concept of evolution appeared, the popular imagination was ripe for Verne's Extraordinary Voyages and three decades after that, the public accepted Well's story of Martians invading the Earth. However, even a Professor of Biology from Princeton was unlikely to calmly accept such an idea as an exterterrestrial alien in 1813.
Another anachronism is the use of the word "germ" and the notion of infection. The use of alcohol to reduce the chances of flesh rot was historically accurate, but the mechanism of antisepsis was not known at that time. Prior to 1847, only ignorant and superstitious people believed that diseases could be transmitted by some sort of agents. Not until 1863 did Pasteur discover disease germs and it took over a decade before he proved that diseases were caused by germs (specifically anthrax bacilli).
With these exceptions, the historical background seems to be fairly solid. The author has obviously researched the whale hunters of that time and the privateers and pirates that preyed on them. The United States may have won that war militarily, but it was definitely an economic disaster, especially in the whaling industry.
Recommended for Odom fans and for anyone else who enjoys tales of the past together with horrible monsters from outer space roaming under the seas.
-Arthur W. Jordin
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