I was sent a copy of Chris Priestley’s, The Dead Men Stood Together by Amazon Vine, in exchange for an honest review.
Chris Priestley has a pedigree of writing horror fiction for children, although until now I had never read one of his books. The Dead Men Stood Together is his reworked version of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s famous poem: The Ancient Mariner.
I have read the Ancient Mariner, way back in the mists of time, and I can’t say that I enjoyed it overmuch, nor that I found it very frightening.
Chris Priestley has managed, in this novel, to make it both enjoyable and eerie, which is splendid as far as I’m concerned.
The story is told from the point of view of the ghost of a young boy, whose uncle arrives at his family farm one day, about a year after the boy’s sailor father is lost at sea. Despite his mother’s reluctance for him to go, and a dire prediction from a strange, fey boy in the village, the narrator decides to go to sea with his uncle when his uncle next takes ship.
At first, all goes well, but on their return journey, they run into the strangest weather, and it is while they are locked in an icy sea, that the sailors meet and tame an albatross. They boy’s uncle, obsessed by violence and driven mad by being locked into the ice, shoots with albatross with his cross bow, unleashing a curse on the entire ship and crew.
They boy recounts the horrors that follow and the unearthly nature of the curse that binds the boy and his uncle together through centuries of torment.
It is a powerful retelling of the story. Priestley has a knack for capturing all the brutal horrors of being at the mercy of the elements and the capricious madness and superstitions that soak the boat in evil.
It was very enjoyable, if that is the right word for such a book. I would recommend it, particularly to boys, as the cast of the novel is almost exclusively male, aged about ten and up. I suspect it may well be suitable for younger readers who have the stomach for it, but it is quite haunting, and you would have to gauge whether you would be the one sitting up at nights with a frightened child or whether they would take it in their stride.