The Norwegian Peder Jensen is the second mate on a sailing ship, the Nepture, on route from Manilla to Marseille, in 1899. In the prologue it is revealed that six months after this ship set sail, it is still missing without a trace. In the novel we discover what happened to the ship and the crew. As second mate, and third in command on the ship, Jensen also has to be the crew medic, and spends a lot of his time patching up the various crew members that keep fighting viciously.
There is a lot of tension aboard the ship, partially because the crew members are from all over the world, some with very different religious and ideological views. The situation is not improved by the fact that corners have been cut when the crew provisions were purchased, so the crew basically eat slops while the officers dine in luxury. Thirdly, the captain is unpopular, and one of the crew members seem to have sworn revenge on him because he killed said crew member’s brother in a mutiny some years back.
Jensen rarely agrees with the decisions his fellow officers make, and try to help the crew as much as he is able. After saving one of the young boys, having been hoisted up the mast by the third mate, the nervous young former street urchin latches on to him with all he’s got, deciding that Jensen is now his father, whether the man wants the responsibility or not. As the journey progresses, both literal and figurative storms keep threatening the Neptune and its crew. As a massive typhoon approaches, the readers also discover why the ship was reported missing without a trace.
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