I’m not particularly partial to pirate tales, probably because there are so many pirate stories in children’s lit that I generally feel that it’s just been done, again and again. Funny, because as a child, I was absolutely head over heels for Arthur Ransom’s Swallows and Amazons series, all about trickery and adventure and sailing. That was probably my most-loved set of books when I was ten. I do like books with seaside settings, which made Emily Diamand’s Raider’s Ransom pique my interest straight away. When Scholastic sent me my review copy, I let out a little whoop of delight, because I remembered Fuse #8 mentioning it at her blog: “It’s funny, fun, and exciting. And there’s a smart cat. Gah! Read this!” If Betsy likes it, I’m in.
Diamand has created a futuristic 23rd century England, where as a result of global warming, most of the country is now underwater. It’s as if society has gone back in time, rather than ahead, breaking down into hostile factions, fighting to survive in a fragile and ever-changing environment. Technology has all but disappeared. Indeed, many blame the collapse and the flooding on their ancestors’ misuse of technologies. Lilly Melkun is a fisher, living in a coastal village, spending the days at sea with her trusty sea cat. One day while she’s out on the water, pirates raid her town and kidnap the Prime Minister’s daughter. Lilly decides to go after them to rescue the girl, and she brings a mysterious jewel-like device along with her, hoping to use it as ransom. She doesn’t know that she’s headed towards a war, and that she’ll meet a pirate boy named Zeph who could be friend or foe.
This one is a curl-up-and-sink-into-the-story type of book. In fact, it reminded me of some of my most beloved books read as a child, because as I was reading Raider’s Ransom, I had that feeling I knew so well as a kid, when I was swept up in the world of a story so completely that all thoughts and troubles of the real world disappeared. Diamond’s book is simply a great, absorbing yarn. She can write. It’s funny and creative and just descriptive enough to build places in your imagination, without slowing the action down for a moment. I wanted to see what would happen next, what treasures the writer had in store for me in the next chapter.
My only quibble is that I did find the use of dialects a bit overdone. In places it just didn’t read naturally, feeling forced rather than authentic. I think that the choice to use dialects made sense, because it helped to convey that we were in a different time and place, but in my opinion, it wasn’t as effortless as if needed to be to fully convince readers.
Diamand won The Times Children’s Fiction competition for this story, and a sequel follows in 2010. I can see why this title was the winner. It manages to be timely, with its focus on the potential consequences of human inaction on global warming, but it has the feel of a story of a long ago, far away place. I liked how it touched on a current issue, and might inspire conversation about climate change without ever being overtly didactic or preachy. Here’s more about Emily Diamand, and a short excerpt from the novel. I’ll read the sequel for sure, and I think Diamand is the real deal, a writer to watch.
Which cover do you prefer?
My vote is for the US version – love the image of Big Ben submerged, and the broken down remains of the city under the water.
Raider’s Ransom is released today, December 1st, and is published by Chicken House, a Scholastic imprint.