By Mark 'Crowley' Russell
Culbert McFinn, also known as 'The Captain', is a grizzled old lighthouse keeper based on the Fijian island of Maloto. In between keeping the lighthouse working and propping up the local bar drinking Cannonball rum, McFinn senior helps the locals keep the island's waters clean and free of plastic, with his own peculiar brand of innovative inventions.
After overdoing it one evening, Culbert meets Varuna, a mermaid from the hidden underwater city of Lapatia. Little does he know that his conservation work and love for the ocean are greatly admired by the Lapatians and, as he heads out to see to recover more plastic, she steals him away to help rebuild their dying city, made virtually uninhabitable by a century of man-made pollution being deposited over the reefs.
Their journey is expedited thanks to the services of Dusty the Dusky Dolphin's taxi service, and Varuna explains how the Lapatian 'shepherds of the ocean' are struggling to cope with the amount of rubbish being dumped into the water. There is also the small, but quite significant, matter of the curse bestowed upon the Lapatians by a twenty-foot-tall part-man, part-shark, warrior god.
The Captain chooses to remain below the surface, where he and Varuna are married and have two sons. To celebrate the thirteenth birthday of their eldest son, Dylan, Culbert fulfills a promise to take him and his younger brother, Axneus, to visit Maloto for the first time - but the former lighthouse keeper and his boys find that life at the surface has changed - and not for the better.
Thus begins the saga of Dylan McFinn and the Sea Serpent's Fury, the first of three McFinn novels by self-published author Liam Jenkins, who – inspired by scuba diving – brings to the page an excellent and hard-to-put-down young-adult adventure filled with tales of derring-do, a wonderful sense of humour, and a very important message for conservation.
I want you all to remember that no matter how small you think you are, you can all change the world with one single thought or action. All you have to do is believe that you can.' - Dylan McFinn
As the lead character himself describes his own tale, 'it’s a story about friends, family, monsters, myths, magic, love, sacrifice and triumph.' There is a certain amount of swashbuckling (but without the actual pirates, much to Axneus' disappointment); the titular angry serpent; a sentient, rather grumpy, bit of techno gadgetry called SID – and then there's 'poor excuse for a feather-duster' Adrian, the parrot. BRAWK!
Although the overarching story is fantastical, there are elements of real-world history and science peppered throughout the text, plus the strong eco-themes of ocean destruction and conservation. Serious issues are presented alongside very humorous encounters, which has the effect of making important points without getting bogged down in didacticism.
The author admits in the book's preface that he began writing with no real experience, but the pace and style of the story make that somewhat immaterial, and his passion for the ocean shines throughout. Jenkins was bitten by the scuba bug on a try dive in Ibizia some years ago, went on to be certified in Sharm El Sheikh, and has since dived and snorkelled in Portugal and Mexico. Divers will enjoy how some of the marine life is characterised in the book, although there's no need to be at all familiar with the ocean to enjoy the story. It would, in fact, be a very good introduction to the aquatic realm for kids who spend too much time on land.
On that note, it is definitely a kid's book, but like certain books about a certain young wizard whose name must not be spoken (or was that the evil chap without the nose? I forget), Dylan McFinn hovers well between older pre-teens and young adults – and 40-something scuba diving journalists, for that matter. Master McFinn's adventures are a lot more fun than he who formerly lived under the stairs, and should a grown-up pick up The Sea Serpent's Fury to check what their children are reading, it's a sure-fire bet they won't put it down.
Verdict: Probably not a Man Booker Prize contender, but a ripping good yarn with a much-needed bit of comedic relief.
Dylan McFinn and the Sea Serpent's Fury is available from Amazon in paperback £7.99, Kindle £2.99, and also available on Audible. The sequel Dylan McFinn and the Temple of the Four Winds and a prequel The Battle of River Chaos are available, similarly priced, from Liam Jenkins' Amazon Author Page.