The Ebb-Tide by Stevenson & Osborne

As a reviewer I find that most of my reading time is spent on upcoming or recently published books. While new books hold the promise of undiscovered greatness, there are multuitudes of already published books that I miss out on. So from time to time I’ll read a published book and when I do I like to read (or listen via Librivox) classic books by well known authors. One of my favorite classical authors is Robert Louis Stevenson (see my review of Kidnapped.) One of my favorite Librivox readers is Mark F. Smith. So when I saw a Stevenson book read by Smith I had to read it.

The Ebb-Tide
A Trio and a Quartette
by Robert Louis Stevenson and Lloyd Osbourne
1894

As the story starts, we find Herrick, a failed English businessman, Davis, a disgraced American sea captain, and Huish, a dishonest Englishman, in the port of Papeete on Tahiti begging on the beach. At their limits and considering suicide, a smallpox ridden ship comes to port giving them new hope – and new employment. Being the degenerates that they seem to be, they decide that they can join the ship, filling the vacancies of Captain and First Mate left by their deaths, then steal the cargo and retire richly on another island.

As they set off on their deception (by consuming some of the champaign they are supposed to be either delivering to Sydney or stealing) they soon find that they aren’t the only ones who have deceit in their hearts – it turns out that the ship’s cargo isn’t what it was supposed to be and they soon find themselves on the way to Peru but without enough food to make it. To further complicate matters, Herrick finds that Huish and Davis are not living up to their agreement and instead drinking themselves stupid every day leaving only the crew to pilot the ship.

When they come upon land, just in time, they make for it only to find that it, too has been hit by smallpox but isn’t yet deserted. Attwater, a bear of a man with a certain form of militant Christianity soons affects the group in ways that they never foresaw.

Like many Stevenson books, this one is a morality tale (and a call to Christianity) where the three villians find their lifestyles leading very clearly to a moralistic end. Evil begets death. Moral shallowness begets remorse. Choosing Christ equates to redemption. While I agree with Stevenson’s message I found the ending clunky and too tidy.

Herrick’s atheism and Attwater’s Christianity offer the most interesting sections of the final act. Attwater is a fascinating character who at once calls the villians to repentance and preaches on forgiveness that is only found with Jesus and then is also so severe as to ultimately push Herrick away. How those two discuss faith and belief makes the final act worth reading.

An interesting read that starts with a great premise that soon finds itself adrift that ends too abruptly. The Ebb-Tide lacks the grandness and adventure of other Stevenson books, but is still an interesting look into the culture of 150 years ago.


Scott Asher is the Editor-in-Chief of BookGateway.com. His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people where he turns real life into stupid cartoons, writes on Christianity, Zombies, and whatever else he wants and posts Bible studies from his classes at church.

This book was provided by the publisher as a review copy.