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lip lit: andrew mcgahan, ship kings: the coming of the whirlpool

‘It’s a fine choice you’ve given him. To crawl back to his home in defeat, or to put his life in the hands of a madman’, Mother Gale

 Ship Kings: The coming of the whirlpool is the first book in a new young adult series by Andrew McGahan about Dow Amber, a regular highland’s lad, preparing for the journey of life in which the time of hard work lay before him as he headed into manhood. Not yet particularly special in any other regard, it was only until recently that his yearning for something more had grown into action; the action of leaving his small highlands home and pre-determined life of becoming a wood cutter, to seek out a life of the sea.

In the age of the Ship Kings the risk of accepting Dow into their small township of Stromner was one that displeased many town folk. The poor fishing town that was the only town of the like that considered such request to accept the boy didn’t seem welcoming to Dow at all. That is until they realise perhaps their risk of taking in the boy may be met with the greatest reward the town have seen in a very long time. As long as they kept their wits about them, the Ship Kings wouldn’t find out about Dow’s family connection.

Arriving to his new home and to his new guardian Nathaniel,  Dow begins to find out the heart-breaking tragedy that turned the grandfather into a senile old man. Is it by chance that the night he arrived was the ten year anniversary of the devastating maelstrom that claimed Nathaniel’s son and grandson? Is it by chance that since that fateful night, the small fishing town has never been the same. Is ‘Nathaniel’s curse’ to be broken by Dow? Is it Dow’s destiny to reignite the ‘life of the sea’?

In all honesty, I haven’t read many book series, but this novel certainly leaves me wanting to know more. So much so, in fact, that by the middle, I barely wanted to take a break for my pancake lunch. This tale had me feeling what Dow was feeling and squirming in my arm chair waiting to finish the page to see what was waiting on the other side. Following alongside Dow on his much yearned-for journey and facing the consequences and hardships that come with it is certainly a familiar feeling. I found lowering my eyebrows or biting my nails at times when you’d think “just go back to your old life; it’s safer there!”. But of course, Dow carries on in the hope that his risk is worth whatever award may come.

I now have an extended vocabulary as my trusty dictionary didn’t leave my side throughout the readings of this book However, other then a few foreign words [to me] here and there, this book is relatively easy to read through. As they say, it’s not the destination but the journey and this is one of great description.

Andrew McGahan is one of Australia’s finest writers of fiction. His first novel, Praise, won The Australian/Vogel Literary Award in 1992. In 2004, The White Earth won the Miles Franklin Literary Award, the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, The Age Book of the Year, and The Courier Mail Book of the Year Award. His most recent novel is Wonders of a Godless World. In 2009, Andrew was shortlisted for the Manning Clark House National Cultural Awards for his contribution to Australian Literature. The Coming of the Whirlpool is his first novel for young adults.

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