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Thursday, April 11, 2013

Hostage Three by Nick Lake. London: Bloomsbury 2013

“It's a once-in-a-lifetime thing: a girl on a yacht with her super-rich banker father; a chance for the family to heal after a turbulent time; the peaceful sea, the warm sun . . . But a nightmare is about to explode as a group of Somali pirates seizes the boat and its human cargo - and the family becomes a commodity in a highly sophisticated transaction. Hostage 1 is Dad - the most valuable. Amy is Hostage 3. As she builds a strange bond with one of her captors, it becomes brutally clear that the price of a life and its value are very different things . . .”

Hostage Three definitely has a dramatic opening, with Amy standing on the ship, about to be shot, one of those openings that draw the reader in immediately, before going back three months, before all this started. Amy has just completed school, but has been automatically failed due to misbehaviour. Her mother had committed suicide during a bout of depression and Amy blames herself for having missed the clues. Her banker father is absent a lot of the time on work-related trips and now he has married again; her misbehaviour is an attempt to grab his attention. But there isn't an info dump or exposition; you get a little information here, then more in the course of the novel, just as much as you need at any one time, so that it builds up a substantial portrait before the end - and the final pieces fall into place after the main drama is over. Nicely done!

Despite the dramatic opening, this is not a white-knuckle thriller. The family is always in danger, so the tension is there, but that’s not the main point of the story. The trip was intended to heal the trauma and, ironically, it does, but not in the way expected. There’s this attractive young pirate, you see, Farouz.  Farouz, however, has his own tragedy, part of the constant wars in his country. As the young couple share their troubles and their memories, both begin to heal, but the ending won’t be quite as simple as in the average YA novel. 

I found the organised nature of the piracy fascinating. The Somalis, Farouz explains to Amy, had been fishermen until their fishing grounds were wiped out. Piracy has become their new local industry. He himself is the son of teachers, but he needs the money from this to get his innocent brother out of prison, where he, too, is being held for ransom.  

It's not what we think of when we hear the word "piracy". There are wealthy sponsors of the raids. The spoils are shared out so much per crew member, so much for the sponsor, so much for the families of any pirates - or, as they call themselves coast guards - who die. Any pirate who does the wrong thing during the course of the hostage situation is fined; the hostages are important to their captors and they won’t harm them unnecessarily. 

I did wonder why the heroine had to be half-American. She and her family had been living in London for several years and it didn’t really add anything to the story, except it’s convenient for the purposes of a scene set in Mexico. It wasn’t vital, though. 

It took me a while to begin this book, which I probably wouldn’t have chosen if I hadn’t received it for reviewing, but it’s a good, easy read and, once begun, it took me very little time to finish. 

If you want a novel that reads like an adventure, but has a little more depth, this is a good one to try.

Recommended for teens from about fourteen up. 

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