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Review: The Rathbones by Janice Clark

The Rathbones
by Janice Clark

The Rathbone family were people of the sea, such that it was claimed that the first Rathbone, Moses, had salt water instead of blood. But as the years passed and the whales disappeared, the family's fortunes declined, and neither their wealth nor their passion for the sea could slow their desiccation. Mercy Rathbone, at fifteen, is the Rathbone heir. Seven years ago, her father left the family to search for whales. Her mother paces the widow's walk, watching for her husband, while suitors begin to gather at the house, waiting for Mercy's father to be declared legally dead. The girl spends most of her time with her cousin and tutor, Mordecai, who teaches her about Greek mythology, marine biology and ship navigation. When a mysterious man invades the house one night, Mordecai and Mercy flee, and as they sail the islands of the Connecticut coast with a sympathetic ship captain, they slowly unravel the forgotten history of the Rathbone family.

Clearly drawing inspiration from Homer's Odyssey, Janice Clark has created a gothic tale with mysteries, murders and ghosts that recalls the dark style of authors like Edgar Allan Poe and Nathaniel Hawthorne. The story unravels slowly, peeling away hidden family secrets like layers of an onion. Some of these stories are shocking and horrible; early Rathbone wives were essentially kept as sex slaves by the Rathbone sailors, raped and passed from one man to the next. A great sadness haunts the women of the family, even into Mercy's generation. By contrast, the men are often depicted as rather blockheaded and undistinguished – they exist for the sea and for the thrill of hunting whales, and rarely develop much of a personality. An exception to this is Mordecai, Mercy's closest friend, who elicits sympathy. He is a pale, sickly youth who longs for the sea but lacks the physical vigor to make it as a sailor; throughout the book he is humored and carefully deceived by the captain's crew so that he seems as integral as any other man, but it's obvious that his book-learning has failed to prepare him for the real world.

At first, I thought there was a spark of magic in this novel. The old-fashioned rhythm of the words and the Gothic atmosphere made me hope that I would get sucked in and be enchanted. But the more I read, the less mysterious and special the story seemed. Instead, I felt like I was sinking in long descriptive passages and bogged down in family history. Every once in a while, a few sentences or a paragraph or two would sparkle, and I would continue through the book, refreshed. Ultimately, though, the book felt like a very slow slog that just rolled on and on. By the two-thirds mark, I couldn't wait to for the story to be over, and I had to push myself to finish the tale.

2.5 out of 5 stars

To read more about The Rathbones, buy it or add it to your wishlist click here.

Peeking into the archives...today in:
2012: Random Rant: E-Readers (Keep Them Away From Me!)
2011: The Borden Tragedy by Rick Geary
2010: Strange Maine by Michelle Souliere
2009: Totally Off-Topic: Steepster.com
2008: Bread & Chocolate by Philippa Gregory


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