The House of Windjammer by V.A. Richardson
Publication: Bloomsbury USA Children’s Books (June 4, 2003), 300 pages / ISBN 1582348111
Genre: Historical Fiction, YA
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First sentence: ‘Much more of this and we’ll be food for the sharks,’ Lucien said, and nodded to the ship’s boy.
In one sentence: Excellent historical fiction with strong, albiet slightly stupid, characters and a intense plot.
I picked this up from the library a few weeks ago mostly because of the title and the first page. Turns out that first page is a little bit misleading, since it doesn’t actually take place on the seas at all except for that prologue. I was expecting a high seas adventure and instead I spent most of the time grounded in the Netherlands. But! I ended up really liking it, and I’m looking forward to reading the next few books.
Summary from Amazon:
In the autumn of 1636, tulip fever is sweeping Amsterdam, and Europe’s fortunes rise and fall with the promise of the New World. That year, the great Dutch family of Windjammer suffers the loss of their entire trading fleet and they face certain ruin. The only person who can save the family’s home, fortune, and reputation is Adam, the family’s young heir. But he faces many enemies encouraged by the despicable banker Hugo van Helsen, and stirred up by the wicked preacher Abner Heems. Only one hope remains:a dark secret, a rare treasure called the Black Pearl. It is not the precious jewel that Adam imagines, but a flower:a tulip:one of the rarest and most valuable. In fact, it is worth enough money at the height of tulip fever to save the House of Windjammer. Adam is determined to find this hidden treasure, but he is not the only one on a mission to find the Black Pearl.
The House of Windjammer reminds me a lot of Avi‘s books, except a little less elegantly written. It’s got the same historical richness that I love, and the characters are all quite detailed and interesting. The plot is a bit of a downer, as it’s the story of a family’s downfall and nothing good seems to happen. And what makes it worse is that the family doesn’t even deserve it! It’s nearly Shakespearean, in a way.
However, all the characters are so strong and (excepting the villains, of course) so resolute in getting back what belongs to them that I have no doubt they’ll succeed. And it makes good reading, of course. I especially liked Adam, who seems a little young for 15 but will for sure grow up into a good man and heir. He’s naive right now, and headstrong and entirely too prejudice (reminds me a little of Elizabeth Bennett’s prejudice) but I could forgive him of that as he is just a kid thrown into a dramatic situation with one dead parent and another unable to control the family business (because she’s a woman. Gah! Stupid misogynist eras.). It’s understandable that he’s a little, well. Dumb.
I’m not at all familiar with 1600’s Amsterdam, so I really enjoyed reading the descriptions of houses and places. (The tulip mania which shows up in the book just seems nuts to me, but I can understand it, kinda. People go nuts over orchids and things in murder mysteries all the time. It’s not that strange.) I do wish that there had been a little more info about things that were more specifically Amsterdam-ish. The town and such were pretty well detailed, but I wish the same could be applied to clothing and architecture or something– I kept thinking of 1600’s English clothing (since I’m more familiar with that), and the mixture tended to confuse me. Maybe that’s just my own problem, though.
The only thing that bugged me about The House of Windjammer was the comma/run-on sentence problem. It was in the dialogue, mostly: a character would use a comma in a weird place or would omit one entirely (or omit a period, which is probably worse), and it got quite weird near the end.
There’s no happy ending in this volume, but there’s the hope of one later. Normally that would really annoy me, but I can live it if there’s solid hope for change. The House of Windjammer is a YA book, sure, but I think anyone who’s a fan of Shakespeare, Dickens, Avi, or even Poe would like it. I just wish there had actually been more seafaring! Maybe I’ll get that in the next book(s), eh?
Other reviews: Jaynekicks Book Reviews