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Book #9: Secret Water by Arthur Ransome



Number of pages: 422

The eighth book in the Swallows and Amazons series opens with the Swallows going to camp on an island, which feels similar to other titles, with one crucial difference, being that for the first time they take younger sister Bridget, previously very much a secondary character, on their adventure with them. Bridget also brings along Sinbad, the kitten introduced in the previous book. The characters are largely the same as they were in the previous books, and I still found John to be annoying because half the time he seems to be saying "Shut up" to younger brother Roger (Roger was always my favourite character, and John just always comes across as the bossy older brother who wants to be in control).

In this book, there is an early indication that the island is inhabited by savages, which at first made me think there was going to be a more Robinson Crusoe-style adventure, and the savages' presence is made felt at first by the appearance of a mysterious totem pole in the Swallows' camp.

While the subject of savages might sound a bit strong for a kids' novel, once you remember that this story is set just off the English coast, and that you realise that all the "savages" are in fact kids playing a game, this doesn't seem particularly sinister at all, despite the fact that Bridget becomes obsessed with becoming a human sacrifice. The kids end up meeting one of the "savages" (also known as the Eels) quite early on, a boy called Don (or "The Mastodon"), a character who is mostly portrayed as likeable despite the kids' suspicions of him.

I'm not sure if the book would be allowed to be written as a kids' book now, not because of the plot involving references to cannibalism, but because of the fact that at one point all of the kids decide to become "blood brothers" with The Mastodon by mixing their blood with each others'. It's probably something that seemed fine when this was written, but with all the modern concerns about AIDs its probably not something that any parent would want their kids to copy.

Aside from the threat of savages, who end up not being particularly scary at all, there are a couple of moments of real peril for the characters that provide most of the tension and excitement; you'll probably guess what the first moment of danger will be, as it is signposted a few chapters beforehand.

At first I was annoyed; the Amazons, Nancy and Peggy, did not appear in the previous title, and it looked at first that they would be absent from this one, although they were still mentioned. I was quite thankful when about a third of the way into the story, they did show up, and it was really good to have both of them taking part in the adventure. As for the new characters, The Mastodon was the only one I was bothered about, though I'm not sure that any of them are likely to appear in future titles. The story did feel a bit more episodic than previous books, but I found this enjoyable enough that I wanted to keep reading.

Next book: The X-Files: Antibodies by Kevin J. Anderson
Tags: adventure, british, kidlit, period fiction (20th century)
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