How to describe this book? It is quite unlike any book I’ve read in a while – not quite fantasy, not quite YA, not quite children’s, not quite a high seas adventure tale. It is a mixture of all these and more.
It is quite literary. You have to be quite dedicated to reading it. At least I did. I have picked it up and put it down since the start of the year. But the last quarter I read in a couple of days. The last quarter is where it all pays off – for me, where the story all comes together. I wasn’t sure about the book or the style or the story until the last quarter, when The Coming of the Whirlpool did indeed sweep me up in the awe and the adventure of the sea and sailing and Dow’s world. Somehow I forgave the slow pacing and ponderous nature of the first half to two thirds, the relatively little action, because the end of the story feels so rewarding, and I get the feeling McGahan knew exactly what he was doing all along.
In an interview with Fancy Goods, McGahan says The Coming of the Whirlpool belonged to the type of fantasy that concerns itself with the wonder and adventure and mood of its own strange world, and less about the complexity of its politics or relationships. The world he has created here feels wonderfully unique, and is focused upon the power and intrigue of the sea. This sense of wonder is palpable. Not only because of Dow, because he is so strongly attracted to the sea himself, but also just because of the way McGahan writes about the ocean. I have my own fascination with the ocean/sea, and McGahan just captures so well the frightening power of it, its terrible beauty, its secrets and mystery. This is the kind of writing where you really can hear the sounds and see what is being described – it is all so vivid and immediate.
I love that there is a map included at the front. I love maps. I love checking places off against a map, of tracing the character’s journey and movements. It is also a beautifully designed book.
Not everyone will enjoy this – the pacing is slow, the mood is reflective, the language can at times be quite archaic. But as you read along the writing and the atmosphere creeps under your skin, and then kind of bursts out at the end. To me, this book went from a two star to a four star book by the end, and I am actually (very rare for me) intrigued enough to read the next in the series – The Voyage of the Unquiet Ice.