Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Review: Prison Ship - Paul Dowswell

Synopsis: In March 1801, all of Sam Witchall's dreams for the future are dashed when he and his good Richard are framed for cowardice aboard the HMS Elephant and sentenced to die. Pardoned at the last moment, they are transported to Australia for life. But will the long and grueling 15,000-mile, six-month journey be a worse fate than hanging? And what kind of life will Sam and Richard find in the strange new colony on the other side of the earth?

Review: I don't remember much about Powder Monkey - the first book in this trilogy, - but what little I do remember I recall liking. Thankfully for me, I didn't have to re-read Powder Monkey in order to appreciate and understand Prison Ship. I wouldn't call it a stand-alone book, but what important events and characters that were in Book One are touched upon again in Prison Ship, so you'll either recall everything or you won't remember at all, but won't miss anything important because of it. Just remember that Sam was press-ganged, Powder Monkey ended with a ship sinking, and his best friend is Richard.

Prison Ship was really good - historically rich (you get to briefly meet Lord Nelson!!), exciting, likable characters, suspenseful, and just bloody enough. Paul Dowswell certainly takes the time to mention the carnage cannon shot inflicts, but he doesn't go into horrific detail like Michael Cadnum probably would. It's meaty without the excessive gore. And surprisingly the battles are pretty easy to follow. I have mentioned before the fine art of writing believable battle sequences - sea-battles are probably some of the hardest because you need a working knowledge of sea tactics and how a ship operated when it beat to quarters. But Paul Dowswell seems to pull it off fairly well - and in first person, too.

I think what was most disappointing was when Richard and Sam are shipped to Australia. The synopsis makes it sound like they have a long and brutal voyage over, but really the time they spend on the convict hulk and the transport ship is very short and quite uneventful. Actually, one could say that it is almost a pleasure cruise, compared to how it could have been. So don't expect anything spectacular and brutal during those parts. Or even when they first reach Australia, for that matter.

Their sentence in Sydney starts out pretty calm and easy. And it is only through stupid choices made by themselves that they land themselves into further trouble. It irks me to no end when characters run into trouble due to their own idiotic behavior - especially when they know what the consequences will be if they do something. Sam and Richard are perfectly aware what will happen, but they do it anyway because they are trying to impress a girl or they've been too high in their cups again. It was especially aggravating with them because overall Sam and Richard are intelligent boys, and they don't deserve a lot of what usually happens to them. But in this case . . . Most of the time I could not feel sorry for them.

Things do pick up, and situations grow brutal. Starvation, infected wounds, murder, wild animals, and even cannibalism! No, they don't run into cannibalistic natives - it's better than that! Let us just say that at one point Sam and Richard escape with two thugs, and one of them resorts to an alternative source of food. This will sound sick, I know, but I always rate a sea-faring story high when it has cannibalism. You can't have a good sea-faring story without cannibals of some kind. And this cannibal was awesome.

Over all, Prison Ship is quite good, though disappointing in a few areas and a little far-fetched in others (really, I thought the whole shark episode kind of random and odd. Maybe in an Iain Lawrence book, but not a Paul Dowswell book). Content-wise, there are only 2 s-words; they are very close to one another and toward the end. There really isn't any sexual content - a character will every once in a while made an alludement to something along those lines, but it isn't anything explicit.

I look forward to reading Battle Fleet.

Overall Rating: 

Other Books in the Adventures of a Young Sailor Series:

1)Powder Monkey
2)Prison Ship
3)Battle Fleet


  1. I read this series a a couple of years ago. I accidently read prison ship first not knowing there was a previous book,(I didn't figure it out until after I read it,) but I definately liked the series though I'm not sure I remember much =]Upon finishing the book I tried to find some other sailing adventure books but I never managed to find any.

  2. There's lots of great sea-faring books. Have you tried the "Horatio Hornblower" series? It's really, really good (I'm in the process of reading it right now), and if you want a spin on the Napoleonic Wars with dragons, you should check out the "Temeraire" series - it has the authentic feel of historical fiction, but dragons! Sounds weird, I know, but it works. I have a huge list of sea books - I'll bring it with me tonight.


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