The Draca is a vintage sailing cutter built in 1905. Her owner is Eddie Ahlquist, an old man dying of cancer. She lies beached at a marine, slowly falling into decay due to the ravages of time as her owner also fails. Eddie’s grandson, Jack, is a former Marine in his Her Majesty’s armed services, who has returned from service in the Middle East minus a foot and part of his leg, beset with PTSD, and carrying a load of guilt from the deaths of two of his fellow Marines, one who died with him and one who died trying to rescue him. Jack is the one member of the dysfunctional Alquist family who truly cares for Eddie and he tries to spend as much time with him as possible.
Eddie has earned the epithet ‘Mad Eddie” because of his wild sailing of Draca before he became too ill to continue. He had found a four-foot-long piece of ancient timber carved into the neck and head of a snarling dragon which he made into the figurehead for Draca. The figurehead now sits in his garden and Eddie talks to it when Jack is not around, thinking he sees the outline of a huge, looming figure coming through the trees toward his cottage.
When Eddie dies, Jack inherits Draca as well as his grandfather’s cottage, his diaries, and his library of Viking literature. Jack’s father, an overbearing and greedy man with whom Jack has an adversarial relationship for his entire life, does not understand why Eddie’s estate did not go to him and vows to fight Eddie’s will in court.
Jack moves into the cottage while the will is in probate and, with a suggestion that restoring the Draca might help him with his lasting emotional and physical problems, takes out loans against Eddie’s estate. He immediately dives into the difficult work of bringing Draca back to her original condition. As he does, the serpent figurehead seems to capture his psyche as it had his grandfather’s, and he also sees the looming figure amongst the trees. He is drawn to the figurehead and Draca as if they both have a hold on him.
This is a terrific book on many levels: the struggles of a veteran with physical and emotional baggage for the time of his service; the warped interactions of a family with a bully for a father and husband; Jack’s own crumbling marriage; the exhilaration of sailing, especially on this old, restored schooner; a developing love between Jack and a young woman, George, who runs the boatyard where Draca is moored; and the growing hold of Draca and the figurehead on Jack. There is also interspersed between the chapters excerpts from a Viking story, the ‘saga of King Guthrum,’ with a strong indication that the figurehead derives from a Viking ship in the saga and that it is cursed. Will figurehead claim Jack’s life to satisfy the curse?
The characters are wonderfully created. Jack is a finely tuned rendering of a veteran with PTSD, old Eddie is both loveable and frightening in his final madness, and Harry, Jack’s father, is a villain – perhaps a little heavy-handed, but still believable. George is at the same time both incredibly naïve (she doesn’t recognize when Charlotte, Jack’s wife, tries to draw her into a lesbian affair and that left me scratching my head) and equally brave, as she tries to heal Jack and at the end risks her own life to save him in a horrific storm at sea.
As a sailor, all the descriptions of sailing and the rigging and sails of Draca, especially at sea and in the wind, were both familiar and exciting. This might not be so for someone who has never sailed, although I believe any reader can loosely follow the action. Having the drawing of Draca for reference was a good help.
In short, this is a rollicking tale, both down to earth and also unearthly, combining many elements into a fine story. I strongly recommend it.
About the author
Geoffrey Gudgion served for over 10 years in the armed forces and made his first attempts at writing fiction during quiet moments on deployment. He later stepped off the corporate ladder, in the midst of a career in marketing and general management, specifically to release time to write. Freelance consultancy paid the bills. His first novel, Saxon’s Bane, reached #1 in Kindle’s ‘Ghost’ category, and he now writes full time. When not crafting words Gudgion is an enthusiastic amateur equestrian and a very bad pianist.
You can find the author
On facebook: https://www.facebook.com/geoff.gudgion
And on his author site: https://geoffreygudgion.com
Draca can be found on Amazon: