Living in a three-sided box in the back alleys of 19th-century London, 12-year-old Jonathan Moore and friend Sean are press-ganged into service aboard the HMS Poseidon, a 44-gun fighting frigate of the British Royal Navy in Greene’s tale for young readers.
In the process of acquiring naval and fighting skills, Jonathan befriends several members of the crew, including old “sea salts” like Steward and Jenkins, as well as young Lt. Harrison and a seasoned Lt. Langley. Even the ship’s commander, Capt. Walker, takes a liking to the lad. Some members of the crew, including the captain, already know his name and favor the boy, foreshadowing a narrative twist that is uncovered only at the story’s conclusion. Another favorite who joins the Poseidon midstory is the courageous and bold Marine Capt. Gorman. Driving the story is, of course, the search for hidden treasure, revealed as one would expect, only through a secret map. Thus, Jonathan, Sean and those we have come to know aboard the Poseidon plan to find gold—before a ruthless French captain can beat them to it—somewhere on Skull Eye Island. Jonathan and Sean prove their worthiness as able seamen using their “street wits” and newly acquired marine skills to retrieve the map, fend off French spies, sabotage a ship and engage in exciting ship-to-ship gun battles. A heartwarming tale of a boy essentially orphaned in search of his father, the novel never ceases to entertain as Jonathan learns the ropes of sea life. The reader learns the ship’s nomenclature, discipline and command structure, food preparation, the proper loading and operation of cannon. One even learns the difference between how British and French ships operated back in the early 1800s. Characters are interesting and sympathetic, or unsympathetic, as the case may be. The reader will grow to admire the officers of the Poseidon and her crew—and despise French Capt. Champagne and his knife-wielding cohort, Marcel. One distraction is the use of French-accented dialogue spelled out in phonetic-English uttered by Champagne and Marcel.
Greene’s swashbuckling tale of high-seas adventure is pure, uncomplicated fun.