Petrel is an orphan that lives aboard the Oyster, an icebreaker that has been sailing the most southern reaches of the southern hemisphere for hundreds of years. Civilization as we know it would be quite the shock to any of the inhabitants of the Oyster. Society has fallen and new cultures have arisen. For Petrel, with there being little contact with anyone outside of their ship, the Oyster is her whole world. Then one day, the Oyster finds a nearly frozen boy, who Petrel calls Fin, and things begin to unravel for the crew.
I really loved how this story was so contained. Nearly all of it takes place on this one, large ship. And this ship has been on its own for perhaps 300 years. Generations of people have been born and then died aboard this ship, never knowing anything else. So, naturally, various classes or tribes have developed aboard this ship. There’s Grease Alley, where the engineers and like reside, then Braid for the officers and also Dufftown for the cooks. There isn’t much mingling except to trade items or services or if the ship is attacked by something. On this ship, Petrel has no place, belongs to no tribe, and is called the Nothing Girl. Who her parents were and what happened to them is somewhat of a mystery and I loved having bits and pieces of this mystery revealed throughout the book.
The boy Fin adds another layer of mystery. There are other societies out there, and at least one of them (Fin’s) is very anti-machine. They have a plan to take out the Oyster permanently because they believe the world must be cleansed of all machines. Fin has been taught most of his life that the ‘gods’ of the ship (the engines) are truly evil and will eat a human’s soul. He was hand-picked for this mission and he must not fail! It was very interesting to watch him struggle with what he had been taught from a very young age compared to what he experienced first hand on board the icebreaker.
Petrel has some very special friends, two rats that she talks to…. and they talk back. Mr. Smoke and Mrs. Slink are very knowledgeable and have the ability to fix things (like stitching up a cut human or twisting electrical wires together). Petrel is constantly shoved aside by the adults (except for a very few friendly ones) and openly tormented by the other kids (like Dolph with her tar bucket). As such, she has become really attached to these two talking rats.
Most of this book held my rapt attention. I loved this whole nearly isolated ship and it’s viable multi-generational population. We don’t know what happened to society as we know it nor why the Oyster went to the Antarctic and then decided to circle it for 300 years. So much knowledge has been lost over the years. The mystery of the past is ever present and teasing. The book did slow down at times with Petrel and her isolation aboard the ship. I felt like that was really hammered into the reader and I got a little bored with the repetition. I got it and I wanted the plot to move forward. I did, as a whole, like Petrel’s character. She doesn’t fit in anywhere because of the caste system the ship has in place and that has really molded her personality.
Fin was interesting too but I wanted more about him and the society he came from. We learn bits and pieces along the way but I look forward to Fin’s past being expanded upon in the second book. As the point of view switches between Fin and Petrel, we have just enough to intrigue us but not quite enough to satisfy. The Anti-Machinists are very different and have the means and drive to attack the Oyster, which has been minding it’s own business for hundreds of years. What could drive a society to such ends, expending such resources?
Then there is the mystery of the Sleeping Captain. That’s right. TheOyster has no living, awake, and active captain. The Sleeping Captain is a figure that is held in reverence by the ship’s population even though no one in living memory has seen or spoken with this captain. In fact, folks aren’t even sure where the Sleeping Captain resides. During the last 5th or 6th of the book, we get to learn more but there is still plenty of questions left by the end of the book. Again, I was definitely tantalized by what I did learn but not wholly satisfied. I NEED Book 2!
I received a copy of this audiobook from the publisher (viaLibraryThing’s Early Reviewer Program) at no cost in exchange for an honest review.
Narration: Anne Marie Gideon did a pretty good job with this book. She had the perfect voice for Petrel – a determined young voice that could be compassionate or a little rough as needed. I also liked her voice for Mr. Smoke. Her young boy voices were believable and distinct. She also had a naughty girl voice for Dolph when she was misbehaving. However, when Dolph as nice a handful of times in the book, her voice sounded so much like Petrel’s I had to listen closely to the dialogue to keep the two straight. Other than that minor little quibble, it was a great performance.