Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Ship of Fire

Ship of Fire

Michael Cadnum
Historical Fiction
For ages 12 and
Penguin, 2003   ISBN: 978-0670899074

Thomas Spyre feels himself to be a lucky young man, most of time at least. When we meet him things are perhaps not at there best. His master, friend and guardian, surgeon and doctor William Perrivale, loves to gamble and has, once again, lost the entire contents of their purse.

Luckily for the young man and his teacher a new prospect turns up out of the blue and very suddenly they find themselves on the flag ship of the great and famous Admiral Drake. Feared by the Spanish and disliked by many in Queen Elizabeth's court, Drake is being sent to the Spanish port of Cadiz. Here his charge is to cause chaos, to destroy a fleet of ships, and if he should acquire some treasure in the process, his Queen would not be displeased with him.

For Thomas this is the adventure of a lifetime and he could not be more pleased. All looks as if he and his master are going to have the time of their lives until tragedy strikes and Thomas finds himself facing a very different future.

With gentle humor and powerful description, this wonderful storyteller has once again written a historical tale to carry us back to a time when values were so different from ours. There again, some things have changed very little. The love and attachment that Thomas feels for his master is something we will all recognize. We also cannot help but feel sympathy for him as he faces his first hand-to-hand combat. Though one of the crew of Drake's ship, he is also on the outside in certain respects, looking in and not fully belonging, not liking all that he sees.

Written with an obvious understanding of the times and with some of the language used in Elizabethan England, Michael Cadnum, shows us a vibrant world complete with its smells, tastes, and sights. We cannot help but be glad that we did not live in a time when life was so hard and surely so uncomfortable. Still, from the comfort of our warm homes we can enjoy the fascinating world of Admiral Drake and wonder at the courage of these men who braved battles that frightened and terrified them so and that were such hit-and-miss affairs.