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The Sea of AdventureReview by Keith Robinson (April 22, 2005)
Hmm. The fourth book in this series, for me, is the weakest so far. I said "Hmm" just then because that's how I felt when I got to the last page a few moments ago. I hate it when books leave me saying "Hmm" instead of "Wow" or even "Coo"...but "Hmm" is what I said and there's no changing that fact.
It started off well enough. In true Blyton style, the kids are just getting over measles and are bored silly. Their entire hols are ruined! But, also in true Blyton style, Mrs Mannering suggests they all go off on a get-away holiday instead of going straight back to school. The children are overjoyed with the prospect, especially when it's suggested that they go along with a Dr Johns, an ornithologist, on a bird-expedition to a bunch of small islands in the north of Britain. Oh, the excitement! A couple of weeks camping out on tiny, remote islands with nothing but wild sea all around, and thousands of birds flocking about! But joy quickly turns to dismay when Mrs Mannering is informed that Dr Johns has been in a car accident and the expedition is cancelled.
Then good old Bill turns up. He's in hiding from some bad guys, and has been ordered by his superiors to "take a break" away from the action. It seems Bill has been upsetting a few too many criminals lately! So when he arrives in the dead of night at the Mannering household, and explains that he must "disappear" for a while, naturally the children suggest they all go away together to those islands in the north. And so off they go...
The beginning of this book is slow-building but fun and absorbing. Bill, Jack, Philip, Dinah, Lucy-Ann, and Kiki the parrot set off to the north by train from London's Euston Station, and—hours later—they change to a slower train that takes them to a seaside town. There they collect a motor boat and head out across the sea. It's dark when they arrive at the first island, and they set up camp and spend their first night in the open air. Everything is perfect! And as Lucy-Ann says once again, eating outdoors always makes food taste so much better.
But all is not as it seems. Why do planes drop parachuted objects into the sea? And what are the mysterious lights in the night? Bill begins to frown and worry over it, and one day he sets out on his own to investigate. He returns late, having visited umpteen islands without meeting a soul. He's still puzzled by the plane's activities. Have his enemies somehow discovered him, or followed him to the island? The next night, leaving the children with the tents, he goes down to the boat once more to radio a message to his headquarters. But then two men show up out of nowhere and overpower him. They take him off somewhere—but not before smashing his radio to bits in case anyone else is left on the island.
It's around this point that I started to get a few doubts about the plausibility of the criminals in this adventure. They apparently don't know anyone is with Bill, but just in case they smash the radio so no transmissions can be sent, and wreck the engine so the boat can't be used. Why not just take it away? Surely that would be an easier method of preventing anyone left on the island from escaping? And they'd get an extra boat in the process! However, at the time this seemed a niggling detail. A few pages later I realized it might be a different story if the children went looking for Bill the next morning only to find him and his boat missing; then they would have thought he'd gone off on his own again, and maybe gotten lost or run out of petrol. By smashing up the boat, the criminals ensure the children know full well there's been foul play from the outset.
And besides, if the enemy had taken the boat, the four children wouldn't have any food! They decide to cart all the food—the potted meat, the tins of pineapple and peaches, the bars of chocolate, plus all the ginger beer—from the boat and store it with their tents up on the island. That night a storm comes along and blows away the tents and smashes the boat against the rocks, sinking it. And so the scene is set: the children are marooned, with nothing but the clothes they're wearing, a couple of close friends called Huffin and Puffin, and, of course, a gargantuan amount of food. In Enid Blyton books, food must never be a problem, so here the setup is complete—trapped but in no danger of going hungry!
I found the third quarter of the book a little plodding as the children spend a lot of time talking about what to do and little time actually doing anything. Occasionally the enemy rears its ugly head in the form of one or two bad guys turning up to "search the place"—but, like in The Valley of Adventure, the children have happened upon a very secret hiding place, this time a hole in the ground. Hiding there in silence, it's pure coincidence that the baddies come and stand no more than a few feet away from their carefully concealed hole to discuss things. But this is a Blyton trait. Later in the story, on another island, the children have to lie flat on the ground and cover themselves with seaweed to conceal themselves as the bad guys wander over to their exact spot and discuss things. This is particularly coincidental since the setting is a lagoon between two islands, surrounded on both sides by a reef of rocks. The lagoon is described as a mile and a half long, so you can imagine how amazing it is that the baddies happen to jump off their boat at the exact location the kids are loitering!
Before this, though, the children have to get off their island—and a plan is hatched. When a boat arrives and a single man gets out, the children decide he must be one of the enemy, come to find them. He turns out to be an ornithologist named Horace Tipperlong—but the children decide the man must be a bad guy putting on an act in an effort to persuade them into his boat. They shove him down their hole and threaten him with a stick if he comes out. Now they have a boat—and the plan is to wait until morning and then make a break for it. Er...why not just go right away, so as to avoid having to watch over the prisoner? I didn't much care for the reason of waiting until morning; I think I'd have got off the island straight away, especially at the thought of other bad guys coming to check on Tipperlong (as the children thought might happen).
And so the children escape the island at last, and not a moment too soon as the enemy has arrived! No doubt they'd find their "friend" down a hole, being held prisoner! But what now? Will the children set sail for home and help—or take the plunge and rescue Bill?
Rescuing Bill from the clutches of the enemy was a much-waited-for event. Finally we'd get to see their mysterious base, the hub of their secret operation. I'd been anticipating this all the way through! Sadly, all we get is a boat tied up to a jetty, where Bill is being held—along with Horace Tipperlong, who we've always known is really an ornithologist, not a bad guy in disguise. I think Tipperlong was sort of shoehorned into the story as an easy way for the children to get a boat. I think it would have been far more exciting if the children had stolen a boat from real bad guys.
There are too many days of doing nothing for my liking, and way too much talking. The overall effect is that the enemy is very complacent and occasionally makes half-hearted attempts to find whoever's hiding on the island. They're sure someone's there, but have no idea who. They come, they wander about, they leave again, then come back another time and wander about some more. They do an awful lot of wandering, while the children do an awful lot of wondering. The end is very unexciting, with Bill and the children floating about in the sea and being rescued by Joe, one of Bill's colleagues. What happens to the enemy is explained by Joe as they fly home: "There'll be a fleet of our seaplanes up in a few hours...There's no hope for any of the gang now." This after circling over the enemy's lair and giving them a clue that they've been found out. Let's hope none of them escaped to other islands and hid!
So overall, a good start, and a very nicely detailed setting as usual, but lacking in action and often logic—and a somewhat limp ending. Oh, and it goes without saying that, despite their best efforts to stay out of adventure, naturally Bill and the kids stumble upon the very men Bill had set out to hide from. What are the chances of that?
I hope the next book, The Mountain of Adventure, is more exciting than this one, which in my opinion was the weakest so far. Still good, but compared to the others sort of ...er...Hmm.
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