A young survivor of a pirate attack discovers a mysterious island in this YA fantasy adventure.
New Zealander Sam Warburton, age 12, is enjoying a luxury yacht vacation in Indonesia with his parents, his best friend, and his father’s business partner, Frank Trent, when pirates attack. They kill almost everyone aboard and sink the yacht—but not before rescuing Trent and his black briefcase. What’s that about? Sam doesn’t have time to think; hiding aboard an inflatable life raft, he manages to escape. Over several stressful days, Sam attempts to stay alive, gaining assistance from animal helpers. He finds an island and starts building a hut, but the fierce local fauna set him wandering. So far, Wilson’s (The Young King, 2017, etc.) book has much in common with other vibrant tales of resilient, clever young people surviving on their own, like Jean Craighead George’s My Side of the Mountain or Scott O’Dell’s Island of the Blue Dolphins, and provides similar pleasures. When Sam encounters islanders, though, the novel takes an unfortunate turn to another kind of story: white explorer meets ignorant nonwhite natives and astounds them with his superior knowledge. They are all amazed at Sam’s snorkel, first aid, rugby tackles, freestyle swimming strokes, and outriggers for their canoes, considering the boy a “wonder man,” making some young men jealous and leading to painful images like “grins and shiny white teeth were the order of the day.” Sam, meanwhile, has nothing to learn from people who are experts in their environment. With this awkward bwana fantasy now in full swing, the book turns again. Suddenly, anything goes: green-robed, English-speaking priests from a large, elaborate compound “based on the great gardens of Babylon and Egypt” appear and demand some villagers for sacrifice, including Lastri, a girl Sam likes. But if Sam wins a ritual race and retrieves a treasure, he can save the intended victims. Thanks—and only thanks—to frequent magical assists from the treasure, Sam prevails. Will he now try to return to civilization and search for Trent?
Starts effectively as a gripping survival story, but the explorer fantasy and deus ex machina approach hamper the tale.