African adventure: the boat trip of a lifetime sails into dark waters [Review]

African adventure: the boat trip of a lifetime sails into dark waters [Review]

By David Massey
Published by Chicken House
ISBN 978 1 908435 73 6

A book that starts off as one thing and then suddenly takes a left turn and becomes something else is an intriguing proposition. Of course, you don’t know this is going to happen when you begin to read, but when it does it certainly keeps you turning the pages to see what other surprises the author has in store.

Taken starts off as a round-the-world sailing adventure, but it’s obvious that things are being set up for exciting conflict. English teen Rio, a sailing champion, has been selected to take part in an around-the-globe yacht trip with five other young people, four of whom are disabled war veterans. The trip has been set up to show that these four very special teenage ex-soldiers disabled in combat can still push themselves to the limit and achieve the almost impossible.

Each member of the crew has his or her own abilities and personality, and Massey introduces them with great care and understanding. They are who they are, and are getting on with things as positively as they can.

Ash is an amputee, with blades instead of legs, who still has the drive and dexterity to match anyone able-bodied. Charis has been fitted with a bionic arm, the first of its kind, that she manipulates through muscle control. Izzy was badly injured during a helicopter raid and now has to wear a complicated leg-brace. Marcus has to be careful in daylight because of the severe burns he suffered during combat. Each character has limitations, but these are never going to define who they are.

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The Spirit of Freedom sets sail from South Africa on the first leg of its voyage. Narrator Rio is immediately drawn into the dynamics of the other crew members that at first she doesn’t understand. Her role, along with Ash’s girlfriend, is to assist whenever an able-bodied crew member is needed. But there is tension here that Rio did not expect and doesn’t know how to deal with.

Out of the blue, the plot is hit by a curve ball. Off the coast of Africa, a band of pirates seize the yacht and sink it. Six young crew members are taken back to land and dragged into the jungle.

Their captors, a contingent of vicious, machete-wielding child soldiers, are part of the Lord’s Resistance Army. The young crew are led further and further into the jungle towards the camp of the LRA’s leader, the deadly Joseph Kony, and the evil Mwemba, his chief lieutenant. Why have they been kidnapped, and how are they going to survive horrors for which none of them is prepared?

This story of courage in the face of cruelty and war is a thrilling read that older teenagers will find unusual, well delivered and totally gripping.

John Millen can be contacted on

This article appeared in the Young Post print edition as
African adventure: the boat trip of a lifetime sails into dark waters


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