Ship of Souls
Dimitri’s life almost falls apart when his beloved mother dies. Then the solidity provided by a kind foster-mother is rocked when she takes in a crack-addicted baby who requires all her attention. It seems that D no longer has any emotional attachments, something that will become a necessity later in the story – but friendships can blossom from the most unpromising circumstances. In D’s case, being a ‘math genius’ in the words of a peer means he is asked to tutor the older basket-ball star Hakeem; and to D’s surprise, he also makes friends with Nyla the most popular and independently spirited girl in the school. D learns not to judge a book by its cover – Hakeem struggles with perceptions of him as a Muslim, following 9/11; and Nyla has a complex relationship with her step-mother. All three soon find, however, that despite having very little in common on the surface, they can be friends – and by the end of the book that friendship will have been tested in an increasingly chilling adventure beyond their or the reader’s wildest imagination.
Author Zetta Elliot’s skill is evident in the deft blending of down-to-earth, empathetic realism with a wholly convincing fantasy plot that draws on certain events in the history of New York, including the recent discovery of an old ship during construction work at Ground Zero. Elliot’s explanation for its being there is so much more enthralling than archaeologists’ suggestions that it was used as eighteenth-century landfill. Elliot also draws on an area of American civil war history that reaches out (quite literally!) across the centuries, via a plaque in Prospect Park commemorating American and German soldiers who fought there together. This thrill of the macabre is tempered with a yearning for reconciliation, for which D turns out to be the catalyst. In fact, the adventures that unfold after D takes an injured bird home from the park take not only D himself but also Nyla and Keem on a journey that could potentially destroy them all.
Nyra’s cry at one point of “They’re not going to believe that!” somehow does not apply to the book’s readers, who will be swept along on the tide of events: no mean feat for a work of fantasy, especially one set in a convincingly portrayed contemporary world. All in all, this fast-paced, well-written story will have readers on the edge of their seat, whether they generally profess to enjoying fantasy books or not. Just be prepared to have your spine tingled and to come away enriched.