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The Cannibals    by Iain Lawrence order for
by Iain Lawrence
Order:  USA  Can
Delacorte, 2005 (2005)

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* *   Reviewed by J. A. Kaszuba Locke

In a swashbuckling style, Iain Lawrence continues the adventures of series hero and narrator Tom Tin, begun in The Convicts. The story of The Cannibals begins in the 1820s on the high seas. Tom (charged with a crime he did not commit), and his best friend, almost-blind Midgely, are among sixty juvenile convicts being transported from London to an Australian prison. Mr. Tin (Tom's father) is captain of the ship. Rich, powerful, and sinister Mr. Goodfellow is behind the charges against Tom and is bent on destroying the Tin family. Of Goodfellow, Tom says, 'he hounded my father into debtor's prison, then tricked him into sailing his filthy ships.'

Tom and Midgely make plans to escape to the island of Tetakari, to be picked up by the ship on its return trip to London. Captain Tin warns that cannibals are worse than headhunters - 'You can't tell by looking if they're cannibals or not. Each man you meet, you'll wonder: will he help you on your way or put you in a stew?'. There are also roving Borneo pirates with 'black ships and black sails'. Unexpectedly washed overboard during a storm, Tom and Midgely encounter others who have abandoned ship. Swimming to shore, the escapees meet a loonie, scruffy-looking Lord Mullock, with a pet bat named Foxy clinging upside down in his hair. But the lord is not the only man on the island; there are also junglies! In a makeshift boat, Mullock and the boys attempt escape from the island, fearing man-eaters, headhunters, Komodo dragons, fire, pirates, pythons, and sailors' superstitions. Some disappear, the rest are determined to escape back to England to dig up the jewel Tom found and hid in the Thames, a famous cursed diamond named the 'Jolly Stone'.

Iain Lawrence takes readers into the world of convict ships, bringing to life the stormy-sea voyage and unforeseen dangers. His author's Notes include a brief history of Britain's convict transports begun in 1787, to Australia, Jamaica, Canada, Virginia, Barbados, and Singapore. A true story highlights the escape of Mary Bryant of Cornwall, convicted of highway robbery. She became known as the Girl from Botany Bay. I recommend The Cannibals as an entertaining, page-turner of a read.

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