This is a first-rate adventure story, beautifully set in an 18th-century Dorset fishing community, with tales of skulduggery, smuggling, hidden treasure, greed, treachery, and true love: all the ingredients for a good old yarn. It’s tense and atmospheric from page 1, opening in a cemetery which, combined with some fabulous descriptions of the dying village, sets the tone of the novel from the outset and is an omen of things to come.
Unwittingly, young John Trenchard gets involved in the smuggling trade and is forced to flee England with a price on his head, not knowing whether he’ll ever return to Moonfleet village again, or how his fortunes will change. The story, which has Blackbeard’s treasure at its heart, sees John mature from boy to man and, despite dealing with smuggling and the men’s attempts at outrunning the excisemen, it is also quite moral.
Told by John himself, the tension builds nicely as the outcome for the other characters remains uncertain until the end. Because it’s literally jam-packed with memorable characters, daring deeds, a sweet and innocent romance, as well as a superbly crafted twist at the end, it makes for an eventful and moving read which is, quite simply, unputdownable.
The language is a little outdated but, in spite of that, the novel, first published in 1898, is perfect to read aloud to 8-9 year-old children. Older children, teenagers, and adults should enjoy it, too, especially if they enjoyed other children’s classics such as Treasure Island.
The re-issue of Moonfleet as an Oxford Children’s Classic coincides with the release of a TV mini-series starring Aneurin Barnard and Ray Winstone, but for readers who haven’t seen the series yet, I would recommend reading the book first.