Saturday, April 10, 2010

Die a Dry Death

“Batavia fought and twisted against the grip on her keel. Jacobsz struggled to his feet on the deck. God verdomme. God vergloiende God verdomme. They’d hit something. A reef. It had to be a reef. Not a gentle sandbar, this.”

Based on a true story, Die a Dry Death is a fascinating historical adventure that ratchets up the tension with every turn of the page. Greta van der Rol’s accomplished debut novel is a gripping exploration into both the endurance of the human spirit and its darker side. Steeped in authenticity, Die a Dry Death is sure to impress even the most demanding of historical fiction readers.

In 1629, the Dutch ship Batavia is on its maiden voyage from Amsterdam to the East Indies when an uncharted reef snags its hull. Captained by the gruff, yet sea-wise Adriaen Jacobsz, the crew has just enough time to unload most of its passengers and essential cargo and head for a nearby string of islets, before the sea claims the once glorious Batavia. But the land that they seemed to have been so blessed to find is barren: rock-strewn, sun-baked, scant on animal life and lacking in fresh water. The only hope of rescue is for Captain Jacobsz and the ambitious Commandeur Pelsaert to set out across unknown seas with a small crew in the longboat, leaving a hundred and eighty survivors of the shipwreck to fend for themselves.

As the survivors begin to realize that their dwindling supplies may not be enough to sustain them until help arrives, mayhem quickly ensues. But when Under Merchant Jeronimus Cornelisz, third in command, escapes the sinking ship and arrives on the island called Batavia’a Graveyard, order is seemingly restored and even the lovely Lucretia van der Mijlen is reassured by his charm and authority.

Soon, however, it becomes apparent that the greatest threat to their survival is not the scarcity of food and water, but the very man to whom they have looked for leadership.

The most intriguing aspect of this story is how the author skillfully unravels one man’s motives for gaining power through use of fear and examines to what lengths a person will go to preserve his own life. With such complex and deeply motivated characters, conflict abounds, creating a fast-paced and thrilling read.

Peppered throughout are exquisite details: of vivid seascapes, clothing, work implements, and nautical terminology. Readers who love to be immersed in a historical period will appreciate the precise research that has gone into this work; while those who enjoy an action-oriented and plot-driven story will be riveted.

(Currently available at The Book Depository, Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com [below].)