Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Review: Shark Island - David Miller

Extent: 352 pages
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Pub Date: 7th May 2009

Hanna, Ned and their parents are on the holiday of a lifetime on the paradise island of Kaitan. But the idyll is shattered when pirates come in the night, burning their house and kidnapping their mother and father. The children are stranded, and don’t even know if their parents are alive or dead.

In this action-packed adventure, there is no one to help. Escape will take every drop of their cunning, courage, and stamina...

I can safely say I had a serious case of the post holiday blues when I finished Shark Island. David Miller’s recreation of Malaysia is so vivid that every time I came to read it I was instantly there, on an adventure holiday of a lifetime in one of the most beautiful parts of the world. I think this is what really struck me about this book, it almost felt like a true story, a hybrid of travel writing and adventure as the level of detail is so high. The author has clearly spent a lot of time in Southeast Asia and it’s a real asset to this story that it shows. The detail is in the real nitty-gritty aspects of Malaysia, the ones not covered in the travel guides like the farms and the Sea Gypsy village, giving the country a real dynamic edge in your imagination.

It’s also really refreshing to have a cast made up almost entirely of non-Caucasians. Ned and Hanna, the book’s heroes, are half Chinese and the rest are made up of Malaysians or the Sea Gypsies who add a really fascinating aspect to the plot. It’s rare in a children’s book to find an almost unknown minority group so intricately explored and their culture so neatly uncovered that the reader finds they have experienced a whole new mythology within the fun of fiction. I get especially excited when a book incorporates a new language, and this story is peppered with Sea Gypsy words that add to the feeling of being right there, working on your tan whilst dodging corrupt officials.

The adventure story itself was not at all disappointing either. David Miller really captures the moments of ecstatic hope and dark despair two teens would really go through as they struggle entirely on their own to find their kidnapped parents. The emotions run deep and a strong storyline complements this very effectively. There are moments of genuine suspense without predictability and the author doesn’t shy away from the ruthlessness of the modern-day pirate. In fact, modern piracy is not the only hot topic this book covers, you’ll also find political corruption, eco-tourism, poverty and minority persecution getting a fair share of the plot. As well as being a thrilling adventure, the reader is getting a decent insight into some of the serious issues found in many Southeast Asian countries.

In all, if you want a jolly good adventure romp and have dreamed of going to exotic climes but can’t afford the flights then this is the book for you. It’s an adventure and a holiday rolled into one and you can go there without leaving the comfort and economy of your own armchair. It’s the kind of adventure you always dreamed of having as a kid, but without knowing it, you’re also learning heaps about a secluded culture and taking a tour that Google Earth couldn’t better. I can’t wait to go on my next holiday in Sea Wolf!

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