The allure of a story steeped in mystery is the delight in the handling of the reveal. The Rathbones by Janice Clark promises the epic unraveling of ancestral secrets, as perceived through the young protagonist, Mercy Rathbone. It was this promise of enchanting family history that drew me to the tale of the Rathbones, however the reality of the story's unfolding leaves much to be desired.
The tale of the Rathbone history is presented as a classic account of adventure on the high seas, looking back to the 1800s and the height of whaling ships and familial dynasties. Mercy is introduced as a vibrant young woman with a conflicted relationship with her mother and her strange relatives, all inhabitants of the renowned Rathbone house and legacy. As the story progresses, Mercy oscillates between a dynamic participant and a victim of this legacy, alternately resigned to and resistant against the (seemingly preordained) fate of her family.
The Rathbones seeks to revel in the historic nostalgia for days of lore, where one's livelihood was a thrumming force of essence grander than the individuals who practiced such professions - though punctuated by gleaming examples of the epitome of whalemen like Moses Rathbone, Mercy's ancestor. At best, Moses (explored in detail as a separate character plot line) comes across as an eccentric forefather. At worst, his approach to women as breeders for sons to carry on the family calling and complete disregard for individuality and personality leaves something to be desired as an empathic character.
Likability aside, the characters in The Rathbones lack a consistency of behavior and believability that makes it hard to stomach the forays into magical-ability-imbued-by-genetics that The Rathbones relies upon. While Mercy's matter-of-fact acceptance of her familial legacy and all of its incestuous ramifications lends a sort of bittersweet empathy to her tale, the hopeful, pat conclusion to her life path is underwhelming. The main characters in Mercy's life are realistically flawed and complex, but the fatalistic component to the tragedy of her beliefs and realities are ultimately unsatisfying in the development of a good story.
(review based on the audiobook version of the book)
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