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Black Waters (Strong Winds) Paperback – 2 Jul 2015

4.9 out of 5 stars 9 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 296 pages
  • Publisher: Golden Duck (UK) Ltd (2 July 2015)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1899262261
  • ISBN-13: 978-1899262267
  • Product Dimensions: 18.6 x 2.4 x 13.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 473,841 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product description

Black Waters


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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
While this may not qualify as an entirely impartial review, I hope it is still helpful. My reviews of the previous books in the Strong Winds series were made at a time when I didn't know the author, but my involvement in discussing Ransome's books and other writing inspired by Ransome led to me being invited to look at Black Waters before the final round of editing (probably so that I wouldn't be able to attack it afterwards). While a couple of trivial changes were made as a result of my comments, my real involvement was just to say that it already works. Not only does it work, but it may even be the best of the series, so I'd be very surprised if anyone who has read the earlier books is disappointed with this one.

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.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I was thinking of writing a seriously argued review about this excellent book but luckily Neil Sydenham's review above has done all the work for me! Dark Waters is difficult to define because it's so powerful on so many levels. It's a gripping adventure, but it starts off with a genuinely upsetting piece of good old English racism, then moves swiftly into dealing with the modern problem of old people who refuse to accept their place as happy has-beens, mumbling pleasant platitudes while they slowly fade away, leaving the rest of us in comfort. Ms Jones's old people are as capable as the rest of us of being horrible, and it hurts.

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.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Xanthe Ribiero, a minor character in the earlier Strong Winds books, is a happy, well balanced sixteen year-old with an Olympic sailing dream, supported by a loving family. However at the beginning of this book Xanthe is away from her family and friends, isolated at a residential training camp. She is targeted by the deeply unpleasant and very privileged Madrigal, who resents Xanthe’s talent and aims to smash her self esteem. Madrigal knows exactly how to make Xanthe feel an outsider by taunting her for being different - her race, where her parents come from and her body shape . Madrigal’s sailing talent is surpassed by her ability to be supremely nasty and hurtful. Xanthe’s self confidence is far more fragile than it would be at home and plummets as her anger grows and her form deteriorates. Eventually she loses her temper and her self-belief.
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.
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Format: Paperback
You don’t need to have read the other four books in the Strong Winds series to immerse yourself in this, the fifth volume. Although I had read and enjoyed the first, The Salt-Stained Book, when it first came out, my twelve-year-old son hadn’t, and we both thought this new story about Xanthe, a relatively minor character in book one, I think, definitely worked on its own terms. We’re both long-term, strictly-armchair-sailing Arthur Ransome fans, and only really know this part of the Essex coast through Secret Water, but Black Waters has such a strong sense of place that the location absolutely came alive for us, and I loved the technical sailing stuff and plethora of unfamiliar terms in just the same way.

There’s obviously a strong (and very welcome) element of homage to Ransome in this series – not least in the beautiful cover, maps and other illustrations by Claudia Myatt – but Julia Jones’ style and themes are very much her own, and have a keenly contemporary feel. I can’t think of any other recent examples of children’s fiction which explore the outrageous acceptability and persistence of rural racism. While Black Waters draws nicely on the actual history of the Essex marshes – it starts with a quotation from Margery Allingham’s memoir The Oaken Heart recalling the not always successful participation of local sailors in the Dunkirk rescue operation – this is pointedly woven into the present, encouraging readers to think about the relationship between wealth and power that has not diminished since those times. If the ‘baddies’ in this novel are perhaps a little one-dimensional, and some fairly complicated plot-strands a little too neatly and swiftly dealt with at its dramatic finale, the more complex characterisation of the ‘goodies’, particularly its black British heroine, offers ample compensation.
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