Tuesday, April 5, 2016

REVIEW: The Beast of Cretacea by Todd Strasser

**** (4) out of 5 stars!

This book was incredible! I have to admit that even though the description intrigued me, I was somewhat leery about reading it! First of all, the 414 page size was a little intimidating, even for an avid reader like myself. Also, the references to Herman Melville’s Moby Dick kind of worried me. I tried to read that classic when I was in high school and only made it about 30 pages into the book because it was so incredibly dry and boring. That was definitely NOT the case with this book! Strasser just dumps you right into the middle of the story and then draws you along as things progress. And progress they do! It seems there is just one adventure after another for the main characters. Even in the down times of the storyline, when not much is happening to progress the plot, there is generally a lot of character building stuff going on anyway, not to mention vivid world-building descriptions. And the author’s writing style is so good that the narrative just flows along, making the journey enjoyable even when nothing much is happening.

I really appreciated most of the characters, although some were definitely more fleshed out than others, and some were just plain odd. I especially liked the friendship that developed between Ishmael and his original core group of workmates: Billy, Queequeg, Pip, and Gwen. That they are all strangers to begin with seems impossible by the end when they have become like family to one another. The integrity and honor that they show, despite the dire circumstances they often find themselves in, is a real credit to Ishmael and the leadership qualities he possesses, even though he initially seems totally unaware if his own positive attributes. In fact, it is watching each of the characters grow and come into their own that is especially satisfying about the story.

I was rather surprised that Ishmael didn’t take more heed once on Cretacea of the final request Old Ben made of him while still on Earth. As it turns out, learning what you do later, I don’t see how he could have done anything differently. But it seemed like he could and should at least have tried.

I was quite intrigued by a couple of rather unexpected plot twists toward the end, which in hindsight should have been more apparent. Strasser does an excellent job of weaving just enough detail into the story to make it all come together in the end, without giving too much away up front. (Without offering any spoilers myself, I was very happy, in a melancholy sort of way, to discover in the end what became of Ishmael’s foster brother Archie!)

Even though I rather enjoyed the (apparent) ending, I did think that it felt very rushed. The story progresses slowly over about 400 pages – and then seems to wrap everything in about the last 14 pages! I felt like there could have been a lot more explained and more time taken to make it better understood. Overall though, it was a very clever story, with an interesting take on a classic, an entertaining read and overall a very good book.

I received this book free from The Reading Room in exchange for an honest review.

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