Prisoners of the Sea
By Florence Kingsley
Rating: 6 out of 10 stars
Prisoners of the Sea is set during the reign of Louis XIV, when the Catholic persecution of Huguenots (French protestants) was at its height. To be a Huguenot meant to be convicted of treason, lose your property, and be sent to the galleys, a virtual death sentence. In the midst of this turmoil, a mother and daughter flee the country, endeavoring to make their way to America. But their ship sinks, and when the story opens, they are adrift in a small boat with three companions, two sailors and the black cook. Their boat is leaking fast, and they are far out of the track of ships. The prospect looks bleak, but just in the nick of time, they find a deserted yacht and soon after, reach harbor on a small island. Mystery gathers thicker as they discover a deserted chateau, furnished, full of provisions, and apparently left hastily by the owners. Henri Baillot, the French sailor who is leading the little party, and his companions are puzzled by the peaceful, but depopulated island. However, they decide to make the best of their situation, and settle down to a peaceful life to wait for a ship.
Life is suddenly disrupted again, when Henri is abducted. He cannot find out why he has been taken, and his companions on the island do not know what has become of him. As he tries to make his way back to the island to rescue Madeline, her mother, and the sailor and cook, pirates, storms, British war ships, and an old miser all seem to bar his path. Meanwhile, the party on the island encounters French marines and convicts, then finally attempts to escape from the island.
The story is full of unexpected twists and turns, and finally ends with an explanation of the mystery of the island.
While Prisoners of the Sea is an interesting story, it is definitely a pleasure book, with little Christian, literary or historical value. The plot is very interesting, but some parts of it do not fit together well, and the lack of real skill in writing is compensated for by adding excitement.
While the main characters are Protestant Christians, and do display some Christian values, there is not much emphasis put upon their faith. There are two ways of looking at the Huguenots of France: seeing them as persecuted Christians who were not perfect, but were the light of the Reformation in France; the other perspective is seeing them more as a political party. (An example of a book in the first category would be The Key to the Riddle.) Prisoners of the Sea seems to fall more into the second category. Kingsley seems to have come up with an interesting story, and then made all the main characters Protestants to explain why they would be floating around in the ocean, and hunted by the French government, rather than designing a story that shows forth Christian fortitude, and tells an interesting story.
There also does not seem to be much historical value to this book, though some interesting facts may be gleaned. We do not need to read Prisoners of the Sea to learn about “the Man with the Iron Mask”, and Kingsley knew, in fact, no more than most people, and was simply using this historical mystery as a springboard to write an interesting story.
So, do I think Prisoners of the Sea is a bad book? No, I think it is fine to read it. But it is a pleasure book, and is not to be confused with character building, or history-teaching books, nor is it an example of great literary talent, in my opinion.
Google Books: Prisoners of the Sea