________________ CM . . . . Volume XIV Number 6 . . . .November 9, 2007


Shen and the Treasure Fleet.

Ray Conlogue.
Toronto, ON: Annick Press, 2007.
320 pp., pbk. & hc., $11.95 (pbk.), $21.95 (hc.).
ISBN 978-1-55451-103-7 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-55451-104-4 (hc.).

Subject Headings:
Nan-ching shih (China)-History-Juvenile fiction.
China-Commerce-History-Juvenile fiction.
China-History-Ming dynasty, 1368-1644-Juvenile fiction.

Grades 6-10 / Ages 11-15.

Review by Deborah Pethrick.

*** /4



The soldiers escorted the three of them to a wide five-bay house with gleaming golden roof tiles. It had upswept roof corners supported by a carved octopus rather than the customary dragon. Shen was craning his neck to get a better look and so failed to notice the heavy wooden doors silently slide open.

And there, glaring at him from underneath black eyebrows that made a broken line like seagulls wings, was Zheng He. The ocean Lord himself.


Ray Conlogue's colorfully written first novel for young readers is set in Ancient China and is based on a long forgotten Chinese adventure that took place over 600 years ago. A giant fleet of wooden ships is believed to have been built using advanced designs for the times and sailed under Admiral Zheng He. Supposedly, these boats travelled to the far edges of the earth 100 years before the known European explorers.

     It is 1403, and civil war has erupted. The Emperor Hui Di's uncle, Zhu Di, claims he is the rightful heir to the throne, and he sends his army to attack the capital city of Nanjing. Shen, Chang, and their mother Lu Ting must flee before the city is captured. Their father, Captain Fei Lee, who is a personal guardsman to Emperor Hui Di, must stay to defend him. Captain Fei hires Lan Yi, the owner of an acrobatic troupe, to smuggle his children and wife out of Nanjing. The adventure continues with the arrest of their mother by an old flame, Lord Yang. Shen vows to rescue his mother and find his father who reportedly died in battle, but Shen still believes to be alive. The troupe gains passage on a ship of the famous Treasure Fleet. An explosive struggle breaks out between Zhen He and government officials who oppose his exploration. Shen and Chang become caught in the middle of blackmail, betrayal, murder and piracy.

      Conlogue's use of descriptive writing draws the reader's imagination right into the pages.

...there was a three-story structure erected on the ship's stern for the use of the Admiral, the officers, and the navigators. Each floor stepped back from the one beneath, so it looked like an immense staircase. Each "step" was a wide wooden deck with thick teak railings. ...Finally the vast main deck rose into view, like a sea dragon surfacing. First the prow, like a monster's snout, climbed above the edge of the dry dock…"

      The costumes and pageantry are well described, as well as exciting battle scenes.

      Throughout the novel, Shen is determined to follow in his father's footsteps and become a soldier, but the more time he spends watching the boats being built and thinking of the wonders of "other worlds" from China, it becomes obvious, Shen wants go to sea and become an explorer.

      Although it is sometimes difficult to keep the characters in order and remember which army or emperor is which, Shen and the Treasure Fleet will leave the reader wanting to learn more about this fascinating era in history.


Deborah Pethrick works in a K-9 library in Winnipeg, MB.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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