Monday, April 18, 2011

Sons and Daughters of the Ocean by Kevin C. Mills

Part family saga and part nautical adventure, Sons and Daughters of the Ocean by Kevin C. Mills reveals the harsh unpredictability of life in a19th century seaside town in New England and how quickly childbirth, illness or accidents can snatch a life away. In the small village of Brooks Harbor, every family’s livelihood is in some way tied to the sea. Some make their living by it; some die by it, never having known another life. Wives, sisters and daughters care for families and businesses at home while their men leave, sometimes for years at a time. One line in particular captures the essence of the book: “To the sons and daughters of the ocean. May we never be devoured by our mother.”

The story alternates between the perspectives of Albert Miller, Sarah Dyer, and Sammy Jones, with occasional broader glimpses of other individuals in narrative. Albert’s family are primarily farmers by trade, but unlike his brother, young Albert cannot envision himself contained within his hundred acres, turning up soil. He longs for something else, something more fulfilling, more adventurous. Albert begins to take interest in Sarah Dyer, whose father has recently died.

Although his awkwardness makes for slow going at first, their relationship gently unfolds, until both are certain that their future is with each other. Albert, however, feels compelled to provide for her and takes assignment on a ship called the Angelyne, captained by George Fuller, whose wife (an older sister to Albert) died in childbirth. Albert is handed over to the steward, Griff, for mentoring and the two men develop a close bond.

Meanwhile, at home, Sarah must take on even more responsibilities – all the time wondering when, or if, Albert will return. Concurrently, Sammy Jones is aboard another ship, the David Watson, and just like Albert, he must face the perils of the sea: long hours of backbreaking work, powerful storms that can capsize ships, and the ever-present danger of pirates.

While the opening portion of this book builds gradually, readers should be encouraged to know that there are genuinely tense scenes later on, as well as some powerfully descriptive and detailed passages about ocean storms and sailing. Kevin C. Mills confidently guides his readers through this nautical tale with an unfailing knowledge of his subject.

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