PUBLISHERS WEEKLY, October 13, 2003 (Starred Review)
JONES'S HAUNTING, GORGEOUS DEBUT chronicles the travels and travails of Brendan Kane, a young Union Army deserter who joins the crew of the Arctic-bound Narthex.
The ship is owned by the enigmatic pianola-playing Mr. West and directed by Dr. Architeuthis, an eccentric who spends his days performing strange navigational experiments. The rest of the crew is an odd assortment of prisoners, outcasts and cheerful thugs, none of whom know the true purpose of the voyage. Eventually West and Architeuthis reveal that the ship is bound for a mythical, lush and paradisiacal valley they believe is hidden in the stark expanse of the furthest northern regions.
The Narthex makes her way through terrible storms and vast fields of grinding ice before she must be abandoned and the men continue the search on foot and in small boats. Nestled within the story of the quest is the fascinatingly grotesque, but lyrical tale of the village where Aziz, the three-handed engine tender grew up; there, parents committed crimes agains their children in the name of opportunity and "[a]t night the peaks echoed with the screams and cries of children and of mothers and the howling of madmen and the wind." (It is here that mesmerized readers will learn, to their horror, what the term rope eater refers to.) The voyage continues with the men enduring all the privations of Shackleton and Scott--reduced to frozen, rotting husks fueled only by courage, will and a brute instinct for self-preservation.
Readers may determine that this bleak, harshly beautiful story is almost exhausting as the Arctic trek itself, but those who persevere will find the journey astonishing."
*A starred review indicates a book of outstanding quality