It’s actually pretty impressive how this book could take super interesting subject matter and make it this dull. This book did absolutely nothing for me, except make me wish it was over. I can’t entirely pinpoint why, so I’m chalking it up to disliking the style it was written in, but there were also some baked-in flaws that could have made it better for me.
This is a dual-timeline story, one in 1628 following a young Dutch girl whose mother has just died, who is taking the Dutch East India Company ship Batavia to actual Batavia, where her father has lived for all of her life. This voyage does not end well; as it’s an actual historical shipwreck, you know where this is going. The second timeline follows Gil, a young boy who is joining his disaffected, asshole grandfather on the same island that the Batavia shipwrecked on three hundred years before. It’s 1989, and his mother has just died.
The two children characters, each nine years old and inquisitive and smart, have both just lost their mothers and are at the whims of adults. They are obviously meant to be thematic parallels to one another, but it did not work for me at all. If you’re going to have two timelines, please give me more connection between them than Gil occasionally learning things about the shipwreck. Also, spoilers here, but SPOILERS the 1628-29 story has a shipwreck, violence, mass murder, survivalism, and a bunch of the nonsense END SPOILERS, but I cared about none of it. As for the 1989 storyline, I just found it unpleasant. I’m sure others will disagree with me, but there should have been way more connection between the two stories. As it was, it felt like two underbaked stories (in present tense, ugh) shoved together like some sort of dry sandwich without any condiments.
This was obviously very well researched, but thorough research and historical detail do nothing for me if they aren’t accompanied by characters I can emotionally get behind (likable or not) and a storyline and themes that bring the whole thing together. If you ask my opinion on whether you should read this book, I would say to give it a pass, but I think I’m in the minority on this one, so maybe give it a try anyway. The literary fiction style was strong with this one, and that might have turned me off as well.