Review: The New World excites, then settles into a lull

by G. Robert Frazier

Welcome to the New World, Jim Hawkins; it’s savage, untamed, and wholly unpredictable. Hawkins, the son of Robert Louis Stevenson’s more renowned Jim Hawkins of Treasure Island fame, and his companion Natty get a rude introduction to life in North America courtesy of author Andrew Motion’s The New World (Crown Publishers, $25).

the new worldPart action-adventure part literary memoir, the novel picks up on the heels of Motion’s earlier unofficial sequel, Silver, with a violent shipwreck off the coast of Texas. Jim and Natty are among the only survivors, though their true ordeal is only just beginning.

Before they are able to gather their wits about them, the pair are beset upon by a tribe of brutal Native Americans who take them prisoner while plundering the debris of the shipwreck and its lost treasures The only other survivor of the ship, Mr. Stevenson, is quickly shot to death by the Indians’ arrows, immediately upping the tension for Jim and Natty.

The death of Stevenson is symbolic in a way of how this book deviates from the more action-oriented fare of the original author. After being taken into captivity, The New World morphs into a more introspective-laden memoir, detailing Jim’s every thought and nuance during his ordeal. There is considerably less emphasis on action and more attention given to Jim’s thoughts and feelings on everything from his life with his father to life with Natty to the lives of his captors.

Motion aptly hooks the reader with his forceful prose, then allows the lulls in the action to express himself in a more lyrical voice. His love of words and their sing-song quality — he is one of the UK’s most renowned poets and was actually poet laureate for ten years – is clearly evident.

That’s all well in good, for literary readers. For those who favor the swift action of a genre story, however, the sudden shift in styles and contrast in the story’s tone is a bit of a letdown. After a bold, action-packed start, the novel segues into moody memoir and colorful description. The action only briefly reasserts itself late in the novel when Hawkins must face his Indian captors in a final showdown in the bustling port city of New Orleans.

The New World lacks the sense of fun and danger that its classic predecessor managed to instill, instead taking on a darker, more serious tone. Nor is Hawkins’ antagonist, Black Cloud, remotely as interesting as Silver in Treasure Island. His companion, Natty, is unfortunately a totally unlikable character from the start.

Overall, The New World races out of the gate, but crawls to the finish line.

Note: I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for this review.

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