Chris Priestley (text), David Roberts (illus.), Tales of Terror from the Black Ship, Allen & Unwin, 272pp., $14.99 (pbk), ISBN: 9781408871119
This quietly spooky collection of short stories for middle grade readers is framed around a weary sailor, Thackeray, arriving at an inn where Cathy and Ethan are waiting for the father to return with the doctor. Thackeray convinces them to let him in out of a terrible storm and proceeds to regale them with stories of horror, murder and magic tattoos on the high seas.
What this book gets right is atmosphere: from the artwork by David Roberts, with characters drawn in delicate strokes to the storm raging within the story and Thackeray’s tales – it’s spooky. However, while each story is interesting and spooky on their own, put together in this novel, with this framing device, I thought it didn’t work as well as it should. This book might have been better as a collection of short stories; or it needed a stronger framing device in the storyline with the children. There is perhaps too much focus on the twist, but for that to resonate with readers, they need to care about Cathy and Ethan, and to care about them, you’d need to know more than a short conversation at the beginning and end of each chapter. Instead, there’s a disconnect between the stories and Cathy and Ethan that is never quite bridged for me. Thackeray himself is a plot device that seems to be there for the sake of being there – to provide an avenue for these stories and to be part of the twist in the end.
This is a highly competent collection of short stories that would have been better if that was all it was trying to be. For me, a twist can’t fix everything in a book.
Reviewed by Verushka Byrow