Review Blog

Jan 19 2009

Tales of terror from the Black Ship by Chris Priestley

cover image

Bloomsbury, 2008.
(Ages: 11 +) Recommended. I'm so relieved that I read this before buying it for my primary school library. This is definitely NOT suitable for primary children and even at 11+ I would add a proviso that it's not for the sensitive or faint-hearted. I feel the front cover is a little deceiving: depicting two small children holding hands and looking rather anxious and with a cartoon spider hovering overhead. I predicted something fairly innocuous - nothing could be further from the truth. However with the age caveat in mind, this is a fantastic book and Priestly the master of terror.
Set during an unspecified time in history when smugglers and pirates abound, Ethan and Cathy are unwell. Their widowed father has set off to fetch the doctor and during his absence both children suddenly feel better and are able to welcome a mysterious visitor to the coastal inn where they live. To while away the time the stranger spins them a yarn, and then another, and then another. Each chapter is a complete story in itself, ideal for a ghostly bedtime read. The tales he tells are full of menace, all the more so because they are about the everyday turned foul - the terrible repercussions of a child's laugh, the horror of flesh eating snails. There's a fair bit of gore and plenty of sinister suggestion that will leave many readers feeling unsettled, this one included!
The true identity of Ethan and Cathy and their mysterious visitor is revealed in a marvellous twist. This is traditional, eerie storytelling at its best. Priestly does not talk down to his readers and I had to use the dictionary more than once to look up an unfamiliar word.
Just one further point, I have always been against the idea of 'recommended ages' being printed on books, but I think somewhere on this book should be a warning that younger readers may be frightened by the content, or perhaps I'm just reinforcing the nanny state? I would be interested to know what other readers think!
Claire Larson

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