Andrew McGahan’s series for young adult readers, Ship Kings, continues to be one of the best realised ‘fantasy’ worlds I have encountered. Fourteen-year-old readers, particularly although not exclusively males, will find a lot to like about the second instalment, The Voyage of the Unquiet Ice.
Our young hero Dow Amber, destined for a sea-faring life but relatively naïve in the ways of the ship Kings who rule the oceans is our guide through this fascinating world, where sailors are the dominant culture and the Sea Lord, a kind of King of Kings, can only rule from the ocean on a ship that never sees port.
Dow’s Captain and the crew of the Chloe are sent on a special mission that takes them away from the ghostly unmanned ships they saw at the end of the first instalment, but nonetheless is caught up with the fragile balance of politics among the Ship Kings themselves. Their voyage takes them towards the North Pole, a region dominated by unstable and unchartable icebergs in search of the heir to the Sea Lord’s throne. But not everyone longs for the heir’s return, and the crew of the Chloe must face more challenges that just what the ocean presents them with.
McGahan’s premise is a clever one – Dow’s own lack of knowledge allows the reader to learn organically about the world of the Ship Kings along with him. The result is almost magical. While long, the detail necessary to create such a fully-mapped alternative society is breathtaking. Definitely recommended for the target audience, although not likely to cross into adult readership.