My rating: 4 of 5 stars
A gripping read. The incredible story (maybe at times too incredible) of an ex-army surgeon with a chequered career, who signs onto a whaling ship headed to the frozen north. It is a page-turner but also incorporates significant historical detail of the period and the professions of the characters.
Some characters are drawn in more detail, which is probably inevitable with a large cast, but I found myself not fully understanding the motivations of some of them.
McGuire has created one of the nastiest pieces of work ever to besmirch a novel, one Henry Drax. Drax is not a man you would ever want to encounter in real life. In this novel, however, he provides a compelling villain.
Almost as horrifying for me, as a vegetarian, are the attitudes to nature exhibited by the characters. Nature is to be plundered and ravaged, and not much more value is placed on human life.
I found McGuire’s prose overly ornate at times. He could be accused, I think, of trying to impress with his vocabulary. For instance:
“The moon is gibbous, the arcing sky garrulous with stars. The two dead bodies lie just as they were, exposed and recumbent, like the eerie gisants of a long forgotten dynasty”.
WTF? Still, don’t let this put you off if you’re looking for a gripping tale of murder and mayhem. Not for the faint-hearted or squeamish.
Longlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2016.
(You probably knew this already, but in case not, a gisant is “A tomb effigy, usually a recumbent effigy or in French gisant (French, “recumbent”) is a sculpted figure on a tomb monument depicting in effigy the deceased.”)