I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.The Dead Men Stood Together by Chris Priestley
Published by Bloomsbury on 12th September 2013
Genres: Fiction, Horror, Paranormal
In a harbour town long ago, a boy is entranced by his uncle's stories of adventure in lands far away. Ignoring the crazy talk of the harbour pilot's son about the uncle being the Devil, the boy boards a ship with his uncle. But the uncle soon makes enemies of the captain and crew and, in frustration at their superstition, kills an albatross that has befriended the ship. As the ship sails on, madness and death ensue, and the boy and the crew face unimaginable horrors.
The Dead Men Stood Together was, perhaps, not quite what I was expecting. I actually ended up reading this in print, rather than the e-galley originally from Netgalley, and the cover of the finished version gave the impression of a book for much younger readers than I’d originally thought. This is supported by the size of the font (HUGE), which for some reason was all in bold, a choice I found rather odd.
Formatting aside, this was a strange book. It is based on The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, an odd choice considering the book’s intended audience – and especially when, on reading, I think I would have appreciated the book a lot more had I prior knowledge of the poem, which I expect most middle grade/teen readers won’t have. It is not entirely clear when the book is set, the prologue is clearly the late 19th century but the majority of the story is centuries before that – from the elements of the story I would hazard a guess at the 1700s, which is also when Ancient Mariner was published.
The Dead Men Stood Together tells of a young boy who joins his uncle on a supply ship, but their ship gets lost in a storm and ends up in frozen and foggy waters. They are soon frequently visited by an albatross, whom the crew begin to see as a beacon of hope. However, the boy’s uncle, who is possibly mad and completely untruthful, kills the albatross, and the crew turns on him. Fortunately, just before they can kill him, the ice and fog begin to clear, and they are free. It just gets weirder from there – although this is all a direct retelling of the Ancient Mariner, the poem in prose form. The only original element is the narrator, the young boy on a journey with his uncle.
This was an easy and quick read, but a very odd one. I would definitely have appreciated it a lot more if I’d previously read The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, and I have a feeling the book will suffer a lot for much of its target audience being unfamiliar with the poem. I have to admit, whilst I’d heard of it, I knew very little about it before now. There were no names in the book – as with the poem, I believe – but this only meant that I had no chance to ‘get to know’ the characters. And now that I know that the book is pretty much the poem exactly, with a few additions at beginning and end, it feels almost lazy.