This is a breathtaking adventure with rough seas, rougher villains, shipwrecks and submarines playing a major role. Operation Typhoon Shore is thrilling. But this is one plot that requires concentration. You have to follow it like a bloodhound.
“I remember,” recounts Joshua Mowll in Walker Books’ author interview, “going (sailing) with my great-aunt Becca one August when I was about eight, and being amazed that this frail, elderly woman could harness the power of the wind and tide with such effortless skill… That was on one of the very few times I met her.”
Mowll’s inspiration for the Honourable Guild of Specialists (HGS) trilogy came from his great-aunt Becca. He claims to be the owner of the highly-secret HGS archives that were discovered after decades in a sealed vault in his great-aunt’s cottage in England. The HGS series is a chronicle of the 1920s adventures of great-aunt Becca and her brother Doug.
Doug and Becca are in search of their parents, who’ve disappeared on Guild work from their home in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh. Their search takes them to the Hindu Kush, Shanghai, Sinkiang and the Sulphur Archipelago (in the Celebes Sea), where they are shipwrecked after a battle with the notorious Sheng Fat, who has a penchant for human bone jewellery.
The book begins in the typhoon-hit South China Sea, where their ship, the Expedient, is being buffeted by unforgiving waves. Among their allies are Captain Fitzroy Mackenzie (their uncle and a Guild member), Master Aa and his two Japanese assistants, Xi and Xu, ‘Posh’ Charlie, whose antecedents are clouded in mystery, Liberty Da Vine, a girl pilot, and the rest of the crew, which is loyal to the Guild.
While the brother and sister have their own mission, the Guild itself is after Julius Pembleton-Crozier—a partner of Sheng Fat—and the Gyrolabes. There are, says the author, four Gyrolabes in the world. These are ancient gravity devices, powered by a chemical more powerful than any known explosive in the 20th century. The Guild has spent 400 years searching for these so that they don’t fall into the wrong hands. Becca and Doug suspect that their parents’ disappearance has to do with the Gyrolabes. And Pembleton-Crozier has two in his possession.
The suspense increases when Becca discovers a letter—and a coded message—from their mother in a hidden compartment of her correspondence box. In the event of their disappearance, writes her mother, Becca and Doug have to take the documents to the trusted Alfonso Borelli, a research scientist in the Guild.
To their astonishment, both discover Borelli is a member of Pembleton-Crozier’s team, which is on the island they land on. To complicate matters, they run into the murderous Kalaxx clan, which is mining for gold on the island.
Doubts set in. Is Captain Mackenzie a traitor to the Guild? Is Pembleton-Crozier the real head of the Guild? The answers are startling. The Da Vinci Code can raise its hat and bow to Mowll’s storytelling.
Mowll’s first book, Operation Red Jericho, won the Poppy Red Award for innovation in children’s books. The diagrams, portraits, maps, character sketches and snapshots in both the books are delightfully packed with information and trivia.
Presentation apart, Mowll’s ancestry is distinguished. It includes William Harvey, the first scientist to demonstrate the circulation of blood in 1628. Another famous ancestor was Anne Boleyn, the wife of King Henry VIII. The book also has a sneak preview of part III, Operation Storm City, that is slated to hit bookstores in August 2008.
(The writer is editor of Heek, a children’s magazine. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org)