Friday, July 8, 2011

Book Review: The Dagger Quick, by Brian Eames (Paula Wiseman Books/Simon & Schuster, 2011)

Recommended for ages 10 and up.

Looking for a rip-roaring adventure story for summer fun, reminiscent of classic pirate yarns like Treasure Island (but without the challenging vocabulary)?  Make sure to keep an eye out for The Dagger Quick, a page-turning tale from debut author (and long-time teacher) Brian Eames.  

Eames spins the story of 12-year old Christopher Quick, known as Kitto, who lives in 17th century Cornwall and is apprenticed to his father to be a cooper, or barrel-maker.  Kitto longs for a life of adventure at sea, but with his club foot, thinks he is doomed to a boring life in his village.

However, Kitto’s circumstances change dramatically when his long-lost uncle, the notorious Caribbean pirate captain William Quick, shows up at their home.  When Kitto’s father is cruelly murdered, Kitto feels he has no option but to go to sea with his uncle, whom he’s just met.  And soon he finds out that his step-mother and little brother have been kidnapped by the evil pirate John Morris, who is following Quick in order to find Quick’s long-hidden booty--not gold in this case, but spices that were just as valuable in the 17th century as precious metals.  On top of all this, there’s a traitor on Captain Quick’s crew.  We discover who it is, but not Kitto.  Eames’ colorful characters are not just black and white; he paints a sympathetic portrait of the “Judas,” since we learn why he desperately needs the bag of silver he collects to betray his comrades.  Will the courageous Kitto be able to survive, let alone rescue his family? There’s a cliff-hanger of an ending, and a sequel clearly on the way.  

This book would make a terrific read-aloud, although the author doesn’t shirk from a realistic portrayal of the harsh conditions for pirates and sailors in general.  Quick’s ship makes a stop in Cape Verde, an island off the coast of Africa, described as a “depot for human cargo, where people are traded for gold.”  One of Kitto’s mates has worked in a slave ship, and describes in vivid detail the horrible smells, sounds, and sights of a slaver.  The yarn is full of colorful characters, including not a parrot, but a mischievous monkey who lives aboard the ship.  My personal favorite is the hideous Captain Morris, with his horribly disfigured face--two scars which creep up from either side of his mouth “form a leering grin,” and he also sports what’s left of a nose--two symmetrical ovals, “like those of a skull,” a nose that “leaks fluid constantly.”   

This is a great pick for reluctant readers or anyone looking for a page-turning adventure story.  My only beef with the book is the ending, which while it leaves the reader at a logical stopping point, also seems to leave us right in the middle of the story.  

Back matter includes a brief pirate glossary.  

For those looking for another great sea story, check out L. E. Meyer’s Bloody Jack series, featuring one of my favorite heroines in children’s/YA lit, the indomitable Jacky Faber. 

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