Review: Ahab’s Return: The Last Voyage

Ahab’s Return: The Last Voyage by Jeffrey Ford. William Morrow, 2018, 259pp.

 

In the mid19th century, a man named George Harrow works as a fabulist for a penny dreadful called The Gorgon’s Mirror, making up absurd stories for a willingly gullible readership. It’s hard work making up the right kind of nonsense and he’s going through a bit of a dry spell, so it seems a stroke of luck that brings a one-legged sea captain to his office, claiming to be ‘the’ Ahab from Moby Dick. Which, of course, was actually written by Ishmael, a former writer/copy editor at the Mirror, and not that Melville fellow.

Ahab, it seems, did not drown attached to the great white whale after all, and is now returned, looking for his wife and son who believed him dead. Harrow, of course, sees the possibility of a series of stories based on Ahab’s experiences and his search for his family, and offers his help in exchange and we are off and running.

Ahab’s wife has long since passed away and his son, Gabriel, is one of many young men in the thrall of a Fagin-like criminal boss called Malbaster, who keeps the so-called Jolly Host in line with opium and appeals to bigotry and racism. There’s also a sad zombie(ish) assassin named Bartleby, and a manticore who eats people and recites poetry. Ahab and Harrow assemble their own team: Arabella, an apparent opium fiend who is much more than she seems. Mavis, a courier for the Mirror and genuine badass, and Madi, a former harpooner and fellow survivor of the Pequod. Many alarms and excursions as the group attempts to rescue Gabriel from Malbaster’s clutches and put a stop to Malbaster.

All of which is and is not what the book is about. Malbaster himself drops a hint at what’s really at stake:

“…Love generates great energy with which to form the world. But Fear and Ignorance aren’t bad themselves, producing their own grim yet powerful magic. The secret, Harrow, is e pluribus unum.”

I don’t think I’m giving away too much by stating that a great deal of the book revolves around Malbaster’s true nature, and true danger. Any reader well in is going to pick up on that, and plainly see the correlation to certain events taking place in this country now. If you’re not into subtext, you’re still left with a rousing magical adventure taking place in the New York of 1853, including references to and plot points depending on: changing street names, Seneca Village, and John Jacob Astor’s secret stash of opium.

Reading over the above, I have to say that it just doesn’t do the book justice. Ford is at the top of his game here, and there isn’t anyone better (or at all) doing what he does. Read the book yourself and you’ll understand what I mean.

 

The Long Look Redux

The first thing you may or may not notice about the new US paperback edition of The Long Look is that the cover is slightly different from the original hardcover and ebook editions. That’s because the original design was too close to the “bleed” limits of the pod cover specs. The jacket had to be redesigned from scratch, starting with Steve Gilberts’ original artwork. It took four attempts to get it right, and the final cover was just approved yesterday.

Revising the text was a breeze by comparison. And yes, there were changes. Not major, but changes nonetheless. Mostly a few embarrassing usage and context errors. I’ll be updating the ebook edition with the same changes in a few days, or at least I hope I will. It’s shaping up to be a very busy week.

Regardless, the UK edition is available here. If anyone anywhere else is interested, let me know. For now I had to go with limited distribution to keep the price of the book down, but it will be available in a few more countries.

I’ve been reading and loving Jeffrey Ford’s newest, Ahab’s Return. As the title suggests, it’s about what happens after the events of Moby Dick, when Captain Ahab turns up alive. Once I’ve finished I’ll do a review, if I think I have anything worth saying about it. Don’t wait for me, though. The book is already out there.