© Julia Jones, cover illustration by Claudia Myatt.
The “Strong Winds” trilogy by Jones is completed with this volume, and I’ve enjoyed all three books a great deal. There are many references to Arthur Ransome and his own books inside. He’s another favorite writer of novels for children, one of the best in my opinion. While there are some common themes (sailing, children working together to solve problems and crimes, English waterways and nature), Julia Jones has not attempted to walk too closely in Ransome’s footsteps, and has instead charted her own course, which I think makes for a much more interesting series.
Donny Walker has survived a world of trouble in the first two books, and here finds new trouble falling on him from a familiar source, a social worker, Denise Tune, who continues to make his life miserable. “Toxic” Tune, as the children call her, is really a remarkably evil woman who seems to revel in her misuse of power and intentional cruelty in a way I haven’t seen in fiction since Dodie Smith’s Cruella DeVille in “101 Dalmations.” Donny is doing what he’s supposed to, going to school, staying on his Care Plan, but Toxic throws him into a panic, causing him to make a new plan. His grandmother and mother are charting a trip across the English Channel to The Netherlands to work out some problems with the registry of their large sailing ship. Donny is supposed to stay in England with his friends, but instead, in a daring act of rebellion, throws himself overboard into the cold sea and refuses to be rescued until he’s allowed to come with them. Just as well he did, for on the way into port in Holland, the ship is attacked by another old enemy they call The Tiger, a Chinese crime lord in charge of a human smuggling and slavery ring operating in the area.
Meanwhile, in alternate chapters we follow a Chinese boy, Min, as he attempts to travel to England to find his mother, one of The Tiger’s workhouse slaves. It’s an equally exciting and dangerous journey that ends in tragedy for many of the illegal immigrants.
All the threads and characters and ships from the previous two books are continued here in a somewhat complex storyline with lots of action, as well as some time for fun, like a camping trip on the Norfolk coast and some thrilling sailing. I found the second book, “A Ravelled Flag” somewhat unsatisfying because of some unresolved plotlines, typical of a middle trilogy book, but this one makes up for it in spades, with lots of satisfying revelations and consequences. Donny’s fascinating journey, along with that of his many friends and allies, brings some new characters, like an unknown uncle, and a touching farewell to another favorite one. Serious themes like human trafficking and misuse of power over children and adults are well explored, and unlike real life, villains come to their just rewards, as do the heroes. A fine series, one I highly recommend. I read this in e-book format, all three are available for the Kindle and Kindle app on your iPhone or iPad.