I received this book free from Net Galley and University of Wisconsin Press in exchange for this honest review. It will be available for purchase on September 18, 2018.
Conceptually this story has great promise. The Great Lakes are where important American naval battles have taken place, and yet very little fiction is set there. This reviewer lived near Lake Erie for most of the 1980s, and I thought this novel would be a sure fire winner.
An elderly woman is looking back at her life, and the story starts with her earliest memories, when her parents separate and her father, a sea captain, takes her from her unstable mother and the girl goes to sea with him. Sailors mutter dark things. There’s a ghost ship that the crew speaks of ominously.
Zacharias nails Fern’s developmental stages, which is critical for anyone writing about a child, particularly if that child is going to voice some of the narrative. Failing to do so breaks the spell entirely, and I am cheered when I see it done correctly. There’s also a great deal of painstaking historical and nautical detail here. As a history teacher I appreciate it, and I learned some things.
Sadly, the character feels weighted down by the setting instead of developed by it. I never feel as if I know the protagonist, but rather as though the author has a great deal of research done and is going to use as much of it as is humanly possible. I pushed my way through it until just before the halfway mark, and then I abandoned ship.