So, I turn the title page and discover that Cussler is enormously grateful to, amongst others, his local fire department. As I move on to the prologue I wonder, will I too feel gratitude or, at every new page, wish only that they had allowed the flames to lick ever higher?

Into Oblivion

AND, there it is, filling page 2: the clip art. I’ve read artfully illustrated novels before, of course; a talented individual, enriching one’s reading experience with occasional, lovingly worked panels.

Delightful.

This, is, less delightful. It looks like it was done on an Apple Mac CAD program circa 1983. Above the banner reading “Vikings in the Fjord”, three long ships approach through open sea beside a single cliff wall, rather misrepresenting the concept of fjord as I had previously envisioned it, beneath a sky fluffed with three cotton bud clouds, all rendered in lavish greys.

Why is it there? Who can say. Perhaps a reason will become clear.

Anyway, here begins the text, setting the scene Somewhere in North America in June 1035, as said long ships are about to discover a charming natural grotto and establish a Viking settlement. This won’t actually happen quite yet, however; first Cussler has to get some research out of the way, history, geography, geology… who knew secondary school would prove so useful?

Eventually a very well described Bjarne Sigvatson (in the sense of excessive detail) and his hearty immigrant followers make landfall within a cave, oddly cueing an extended description of their culture’s naval techniques and ship-building practices, before he gets down to the real hard work of building traditional Norwegian-style long-houses, trading with the natives and sending his brother Magnus off with one hundred men to explore their new home. Cussler could have saved on paper if he went on to say they found wild dogs, buffalo and lots of Skraelings – or what British colonials would have called “bloody natives” – but continuing what looks set to become a real taste for linguistic redundancy it takes him a lot longer to get these rovers back to base, only for them to discover their homes burned and their people slain. Including Bjarne, which was a real blow considering how much I’d got to know him over the… preceding four pages.

Firing up a good old Viking rage, Magnus and his boys bury Bjarne where his ship lies, collapsing the cave-mouth but leaving an underwater passage, we learn, then they race off to slaughter a thousand native American men, women and children before being overwhelmed by greater numbers and killed. Apparently, Magnus “was what the Vikings called a beserkr, a word that would pass down the centuries as berserk”. And, apparently, stjornbordi came to be the word starboard. Although in fairness, that bit was mentioned a little earlier. In a fractionally more relevant place.

Our scene is set. Let us move on from here and discover its relevance, after the words…

Monster from the Deep

Oh. It’s another prologue.

Fuck. Plus more clip art. This one, and I’m not going to shy from spoiling the big surprise either, reads “Mystery Submarine”, beneath a picture of… actually, it looks a bit like a big metal penguin with a novelty toffee on it’s back. There are lots of little Jesus-fishes in the background. Happy?

Now, we are generously introduced to the wooden-hulled warship Kearsarge and Captain Leigh Hunt, sailing the Caribbean in 1894, shortly before they spot a “strange species of sea monster” lurking low in the waves, to which all concerned are repeatedly and vocally doubtful that it could possibly be a man-made vessel. They shoot at it (Americans), scaring it underwater, then hang around all day in case it comes back, and when it does it charges them.

Their shells bounce off it and, just before it scoots under their hull and cracks it like a nutshell, Cap’n Hunt makes eye contact with the melancholy bearded man within (within the submarine, I mean, not himself). Sinking fast, Kearsarge is guided to a nearby reef and grounded, saving all on board. When they are found and returned to America, the Navy mysteriously fail to court-marshal him, mysteriously wanting to sweep the incident under the rug, and mysteriously give him a promotion before his retirement… hmm. And the wreck, burned by natives (another theme, I think) from the nearby islands, is left to “disintegrate in a coral tomb”.

Well. So far, so soft-core disaster porno. I wonder what the next prologue will reveal…

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