Black Waters (Strong Winds) Paperback – 2 Jul 2015
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This time the main character is Xanthe, and seeing the world through her eyes transforms her into a fully-rounded character (it's a pity that Ransome didn't do the same for Nancy). With the main character being a girl, there is a risk that many boys won't consider reading this book unless they've already read the earlier ones, but I'm confident that those who have read them and know Xanthe already will not make the mistake of letting something like gender put them off - Xanthe makes every bit as good a role model for a boy to follow as a girl, for she is a racer with ambition, and she also cares about other people (including those who have been unkind to her). Xanthe's age will likely tune this book more to the teenage reader, but again I can imagine younger readers enjoying it too if they've read the earlier books, and they will doubtless find Xanthe inspiring - while she makes an awful mistake at the beginning (which is only human), she has to try to find a way back from there and overcome the odds to do so, but I'll leave all of that for the story to tell. What I will say here is that she becomes caught up in something rather bigger than she'd expected, and the enemy here is another powerful megalomaniac who seems to be above the law. There is a key moment near the end which feels like a repetition of the previous book, but what follows is more than creative enough to justify it.
The reader should perhaps be warned that they may find the tangle of connections between the local people a little hard to keep up with, so it may be worth making a few notes about them as you read through the book (just as you might do when reading a full-blown detective story), but it isn't essential to understand all of that to enjoy the story. What I enjoyed most about the book was the simple stuff: I liked being taken to the marshes and river and feeling as if I was there experiencing them for real, I loved all the parts with Xanthe introducing some damaged children to sailing and way she built up her relationship with them (they all seem like real people too), and I felt that I was getting a genuine view of the locals who have deep roots in that place, like Gareth who farms oysters - we are given an insight into his work (which is a bit like meeting the charcoal burners in Ransome's book Swallows and Amazons), but this is neatly tied in with the story so that it fully belongs there - it's beautifully done (and I love the way he speaks too). The place is as important a character as Xanthe, and it lends the book a special atmosphere which stays with you for a long time - I keep taking it back out of the bookcase just to look at the cover. In short, this is another great addition to the series, and I hope there will be more.
Black Waters is the story of how Xanthe regains her confidence and grows in maturity, teaching traumatised children to sail, and coping with racial bigotry and internet trolling.
This sounds a trifle worthy, but Black Waters is a beautifully written, fast moving and complex tale; a mystery adventure of the best sort. It includes a strange family feud in the lonely and mysterious Essex marshes; a touch of the almost supernatural; as well as gangsters, inappropriate land development, unexplained deaths – and of course sailing.
Definitely Julia Jones’s best book to date and there is certainly no need to read the rest of the series to appreciate it. Xanthe is older than the characters in the previous books so although a sophisticated ten year old may enjoy the story, I think that it is really ideal for twelve year olds and older. As an adult I loved it.
When she moves on to the very rich, depicted as spiteful, venal and utterly uninterested in normal laws of human behaviour the apparent bleakness of this novel is complete. But there are other characters, white and black, young and old, happy and completely desperate, who move the story into a different realm. It may not ever be heart-warming, but it has a powerful rallying cry. The good people are prepared to fight, and fight they must. It's the fifth book in a series, inspired by the works of Arthur Ransome, who was anything but 'just' a children's writer. He was a war correspondent and a spy who married Trotsky's secretary. I think he would be entirely delighted with Black Waters and the other books.