Thanks to Egmont USA for the ARC of Seaborne: The Lost Prince, by Matt Myklusch. The real thing comes out next May. (Is it worth the wait? Read the review, but the short answer: yes.) Of course, this review will be spoiler-free. Here’s the synopsis:
Dean Seaborne is thrown off his ship by the Pirate King and given one last chance to redeem himself before he meets Davy Jones’s locker. He has to spy on the Pirate King’s biggest rival, Gentleman Jack Harper, and find the treasure hidden on the mysterious island of Zenhala.
Once on Zenhala, Dean finds that the inhabitants of the island think he is the lost prince who went missing 13 year ago. In order to fulfill his mission for the Pirate King, Dean undergoes intense and fantastical trials to prove he is the lost prince. But the longer Dean stays on the island, the more he questions his mission.
I had a blast reading this book. Matt Myklusch is one of my favorite local authors, and while his books aren’t that well known, everyone who has listened to my recommendations has enjoyed them. (I have already reviewed the first and third books of his Jack Blank trilogy.) Based on previous experiences, The Lost Prince does not disappoint.
I devoured this book. I didn’t want to put it down, and whenever I wasn’t reading it, I wanted to get back to it. It’s been a while since a book has affected me like that. I finished it the day I began it, staying up as late as necessary to get to the end. In a word, the book is fun. It’s got monsters, villains, and some pretty cool action scenes, but underneath all the tropes you think you’ve seen before, plot twists to keep pulling you along through the book. It’s marketed as middle grade, but it will work for all ages.
The characters were vivid and punchy. Dean, the main character, was immediately engaging and likable, the villain immediately the opposite. The author introduced just the right blend of friends and foes, with a dash of friendly foes and foe-ish friends. The character conflicts never stopped, yet pushed exactly the right buttons to pace giant reveals and emotional turn-arounds. In this area, I think the author works best— nearly everything was perfect for both the plot and the middle-grade genre.
Speaking of the plot, it was fantastic. The author has always done a great job of introducing a character to a wonderful new world, then showing off that world without making it boring. The trials were expertly handled, edge-of-your-seat scenes that made you love the main character, but nevertheless had you wondering how he was ever going to get out alive. While some reveals and plot twists were half-expected, what came after was just as surprising. Except for one plot twist at the end, where the author should have explained things a little better, he handled things perfectly. (For that one, I think I have to go back and figure out why it was plausible— with a little thought I can accept it, but it’s just not smooth.) The ending tied up all the loose ends to satisfaction, fulfilling each promise and putting neat little bows on top. The fun never stopped.
And the setting? As I said, the author showed it off perfectly. The descriptions were vivid, the places unique. Even though it’s supposed to be a perfect island in the middle of the Caribbean with gold growing on trees, Zenhala had slums too, which was pretty cool. The subversion of paradise was a perfect touch in hating some of the characters. The aforementioned monsters were really fun to see in action, and the weather— it’s not often when weather is a part of the setting, but when it is, it’s spectacular. (See The Way of Kings.) All in all, it was a fun version of the classic pirate world.
The last three paragraphs were about characters, plot, and setting respectively, but as you can see, each element interacted inextricably with the others. The characters influenced the plot, the plot showed off the setting, the setting cast new light on the characters. Everything conspired to make a whole that was, as I have said several times, a lot of fun.
And on the prose side? The descriptions were good, everything seemed quite clear, and I really enjoyed seeing both the facade Dean puts up as a spy as well as his thoughts on making sure everyone is tricked. The emotions were clear and understandable. The only comment I would make is the sentence structure. Even though the author showed things instead of telling them, it felt slightly… off, straight from the first page. It didn’t affect the story, but there were times when I would sit back and look at the prose, looking for problems. (I’m pretty sure I know what went wrong and how to fix it, but that’s unnecessary to say here.) Other than those times, I thought the book was well-written.
I’d like to round out the review on the subject of seagoing terms. As a sailor and an avid reader of sea stories, I knew most of the terms already— to me, the author didn’t introduce anything I didn’t know, and I can’t comment on the terminology learning curve. However, he was accurate on pretty much every sailing term he used. I’m glad he did his research for this. But the one term he didn’t get (and this bugged me through the whole book), was “league”. A league, in distance, is about three miles. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea means 60,000 miles beneath the surface (which is implausible for a completely different reason). Seven-league boots, found in several fairy tales, can take the wearer 21 miles in a single step. However, the author used league as meaning something much shorter, I’m guessing around 25 feet. That’s about 600 times shorter than it ought to be, and thus when he says two ships are about 15 leagues apart and one starts firing its cannons, the original definition of league makes that a lot less of a problem. That said, that one term did not ruin the book for me. I temporarily redefined the word for the duration of the book, and now it’s back to being three miles. I still enjoyed the book.
Here’s the quotable section of the review, for convincing your friends to buy the book when it comes out: The Lost Prince was thrilling, vivid, and a whole lot of fun to read. I heartily recommend it for all ages.
Thanks again to Egmont USA and Matt Myklusch for the ARC. I will nevertheless buy the real thing when it arrives, because this is worthy of a reread.