This is a novel about whaling. You have to hand it to an author so willing to set out on a new book knowing with absolute certainty that they are definitely not going to write the best book on their chosen subject.
Patrick Sumner is an Irish surgeon court-martialed from the British army and forced to settle for a position as the doctor aboard a whaling vessel. Hiding his secret shame from his employers and fellow crew-members, Sumner copes with his fall from grace through heavy doses of laudanum, an addiction he has no intention of fighting.
Among the other crew members is one Henry Drax, a brutish, amoral and murderous harpooner with a predilection toward sodomy. Drax and Sumner butt heads aboard the ship, as each uncovers some but not all of the other’s secrets. The two become locked in a dangerous stalemate. Meanwhile, the ship’s surprisingly below-average crew and historically unlucky captain career towards a disaster that will push all of them to the edge.
If that all sounds irresistible, well, at least you understand why I bought this novel. And while the book has it finer points, unfortunately it is something of a let-down. The writer veers early and often into the sort of hyper-masculine prose that people find so easy to mock even when done by acknowledged masters like Cormac McCarthy. McGuire is a big fan of the obscure noun, hyphenated words, over-the-top descriptions of the natural beauty, and blood and gore. McGuire clearly has done a lot of research but his high-testerone output will leave most people thoroughly unsatisfied.