In 2012 I reviewed Neversink, a superb, Watership Down-esque tale of animals living in the Arctic Circle by Barry Wolverton. I've been waiting three years to see what he does next and The Vanishing Island, the first book in the Chronicles of the Black Tulip series is every bit as exciting as Neversink and inventively set in the alternate past of 1599!
As The Vanishing Island begins, we meet twelve-year-old Bren Owen, resident of Map. The town of Map is the "dirtiest, noisiest, smelliest city in all of Britannia," which is an alternate version of England. Being the home of McNally's Map Emporium, naturally, Map is also a vital port in the age of exploration, which is dominated by the the Netherlands and their Dutch Bicycle & Tulip Company. As the son of a map draftsman, a dull job with no room for advancement, Bren is desperate to leave Map for a life at sea and makes his third attempt at stowing away as the book begins. When his plans go awry, Bren finds himself indentured to the powerful Rand McNally (a slightly anachronistic joke on the part of the author) and working in his vomitorium. It's there that Bren's journey begins.
While everything about this book, from the title to the cover art to the character of Bren, makes it clear from the start that a sea voyage will be a large part of the novel, it takes over 100 pages for him to set sail. The time on land is spent world building and layering in ancient myths, fables and historical facts that include Kublai Khan and Marco Polo to the mystery that Bren will encounter once he is at sea. Finally on board the Albatross, the mysterious Captain Bowman, Bren's seeming benefactor, begins to reveal his true intentions and Bren, after fulfilling his duties, wants only to return home. Instead, he ends up finding the mysterious Vanishing Island and the treasure that the Captain was after and setting the stage for what promises to be a VERY exciting second book in the series.
Source: Review Copy