The Cruachan and The Killane by Cristabel
Curtis Books, 1970
Price I paid: 75¢
Nora Castonay is a breathtaking blonde endowed with a miraculous psychical gift of healing the sick. She also has an uncanny gift for getting into all kinds of trouble.
First, aboard a doomed aircraft a dying courier entrusts her with secret information to deliver a mysterious man named Vanor. Next, rescued after the explosion of the plane by a ship, The Cruachan, she falls in love with its enigmatic captain, Killane.
Then, as she finally nears the mystic island of Veltakin, she comes face to face with the ultimate, universal terror—
This is, I think, the first book I’ve reviewed that was written by an author with one name. I knew at once that little good can come out of an author with only one name. I was right.
I was surprised to find that said author was, in fact, a woman named Christine Elizabeth Abrahamsen, a professor of nursing. My mom’s a nurse, so I was quite willing to give this book more credit just because of that fact. I thought maybe this could be a story from an interesting point of view. We don’t get many science fiction stories about nurses, and their patient gallantry is, more often than not, the stuff of true inspiration. I have nearly infinite respect for nurses, and not just because of my mom. They do gruelling, thankless, very important work.
This is not the case in this book! Yes, it turns out that our heroine is a nurse at the start. The back of the book even tells us that she has the “miraculous psychical gift of healing the sick,” a talent that is miraculous enough without the “psychical” part. As the book kicked off, I thought that maybe I was in for something interesting.
What I got instead was about thirty pages of Nora, the psychic healing nurse, and then the book went right off the rails into something I’m having a lot of trouble describing. It’s not that the book was especially weird. It was, in fact, very prosaic in a lot of ways, despite taking place on some planet that was not Earth. The planet in this book is not named. I suppose the book was also supposed to take place in the future, but that was never mentioned either. We are never told nor shown when and where this book takes place, and honestly, I’m counting that as a positive aspect of the book. The setting was so matter-of-fact for the characters that it wasn’t necessary to talk about the planet, or its history, or space travel, or anything like that. At least that’s how I felt about the book while I wasn’t being massively annoyed by it. I’m torn.
We meet Nora Castonay just before her airplane explodes. The very fact that this book kicks off with a plane crash made me question just how futuristic and unearthly it was going to be. At first I was all, “Oh, this is neat, we’re using really basic technologies again or something,” but as time went on I had a sinking feeling: this book is nominally science fiction and it didn’t need to be. It takes place on another planet, and that doesn’t matter. It takes place in the (far?) future when it could just as easily have been set in the present. Nora has a special psychic power that she uses exactly one time and it’s never commented upon again. She could have been powerless and she would have been the same character. In fact, it might have been a more meaningful statement of her character, which is hardly developed otherwise beyond her slender beauty, if she’d just been a protective and compassionate person.
So her plane goes down. Just before it does, however, she’s approached by another passenger, who smokes a cigarette and starts to die. Apparently it was a poison cigarette. Before he dies, though, he hands Nora his cigarette case and a ring and tells her to find some guy. Then the plane explodes. Nora drifts around the ocean with the one other survivor, a baby she names Colina. This is the one time she uses her healing powers. She keeps the baby alive until rescue happens.
Said rescue comes from a ship called The Cruachan, which I feel like should be italicized but the book didn’t do it so I won’t either. It’s not my responsibility. The Cruachan is not a spaceship. I had expected a spaceship. It is a water ship. It is very special. The reason it is special is because it is captained by Jaime Dane Killane. And here’s where the majority of the book starts to happen.
Somewhere between fifty and eighty percent of this book is about The Killane, as people call him. All of that is people sitting around talking about how amazing The Killane is. He is the best captain, he is special, he is mysterious, he is blah blah blah blah
I GOT VERY, VERY SICK OF THIS
At no point was I convinced that The Killane was anything great. He never earned all this talk, not in the text, anyway. He just exists and sometimes he makes a decision that saves the ship and makes everybody go “And that’s why The Killane is the best captain! I don’t know how he does it all the time! I’m so happy to be on his crew!”
His crew has, of course, fantastic loyalty.
One thing about The Killane is that his crew loves him so much that they want him to be happy, and so they’re constantly on the search for a “mate.” At first I assumed they were talking in nautical terms, but no, apparently they want him to breed or something. Seriously, folks, don’t refer to a human relationship, sexual or emotional, as “mating.” That’s what specimens do, not humans.
I also feel that way about the word “a female.” Maybe that’s just my thing.
So The Killane knows where to search for Nora because he has a connection with her. The connection runs both ways. They are soulmates or something. It was never really explored. The only thing that matters is that Nora and Corina are rescued and then Nora marries The Killane about six minutes later, because they’ve always been searching for one another on some level. That’s fine, honest. I might roll my eyes a bit but that’s a perfectly valid way of objectifying both parties in the relationship and denying the idea that romance and free will are compatible.
Everybody goes to this magical island called Veltákin for about fifty pages before somebody, somewhere, decided that the accent wasn’t necessary anymore. The Killane and Nora adopt Colina and live in happiness until The Killane leaves again, because somebody shot down that plane and killed that guy and he wants to know who it was and stop them.
So the book rolls on for another 250 pages. The Killane stalks the ocean, looking for people, rescuing other people, and we the readers are constantly told how goddamn special and amazing he is.
I grew very, very frustrated with this book.
I don’t think we’re ever told who the bad guys are. The back of the book calls out an “ultimate, universal terror” but that’s such a lie that I wish I didn’t call things lies so that the word had more meaning. I never felt like there was any danger to anybody beyond that first plane explosion. The Killane is too wonderful to let anything threaten him or his eternally bonded soul woman.
Nora stays back on the island and coos over the baby and keeps house. Most of the time when the narrative cuts to her, she’s staring wistfully across the ocean, telling her husband to be safe and come back home as quickly as possible. The story makes it seem like he hears her, because he spends a lot of time also looking across the ocean and seeing visions of her.
This book was 286 pages and I felt like so little happened. The shame of it all is that it might have been a decent story with a lot, A LOT, of trimming. If this had been a much shorter paperback, say half the length, I might not have gotten so frustrated with it. But here it is and here I am, fuming. Part of me is mad because I want to type so much faster and get everything about this book behind me so I never have to think about it again.
There’s really so little else to say. The Cruachan is being pursued by a mysterious submarine for most of the book. Eventually it’s destroyed by a bunch of fish. Big fish. Apparently The Killane can talk to fish? It’s never really discussed. He cryptically says something about how he did the fish a favor once, something I found delightfully Tolkienish, but nothing more was filled in on that mystery.
Eventually the bad guys, whoever they are, attack the island. Things look bad for about six seconds until The Killane shows up and then the island is saved.
There’s just so little to say about this book that got me so, so annoyed. I’ll admit it: by the end of the book I was skipping whole swathes at a time, glancing at a paragraph every few pages just long enough to go, “Did anything happen?”
The answer was always no.
I think I could have started doing that from the beginning and saved us all a bit of trouble.
The SFE says that Cristabel’s fiction is “written in a style that crosses the romance genre with boys’ fiction.” I suppose I can see that. There was a lot of romance in this book, none of it in any way appealing or realistic to me, but perhaps it’s the kind of thing that people search for when they read books with names like The Greek Tycoon’s Virgin Secretary Housewife. I honestly wouldn’t know. Maybe I should expand my horizons?
As far as the boy’s fiction element goes, I guess I see that too. A lot of this book was Adventure on the High Seas, or at least ostensibly so. I never felt like there was much adventure. Mostly there were bits where The Killane would go “Make the ship go faster!” and somebody would think There’s no way the ship can go faster, but he’s The Killane, so I better try, and then the ship goes impossibly fast.
I’m not frustrated because the book was bad. I’m frustrated because it was so painfully mediocre. It had flat, unrealistic characters who did very little except sit around and talk about how amazing one particular flat, unrealistic character was. I never once felt any connection to anybody, and every time somebody ended a paragraph with a sentence in praise of The Killane, which was often, I just rolled my eyes and moved on.
The other thing this book really liked was having people laugh uproariously at things that weren’t especially funny. At first that bothered me, but over time I realized that this was probably more of an indicator of comradeship than of any actual attempt at humor, and I warmed to it.
Another thing that was decent about this book was that, despite all the problems with pacing and Mary Sueism, there weren’t many long exposition breaks. A significant portion of this book is mysterious to me. Sometimes that’s good. There were plenty of little in-jokes between The Killane and his crew that lent the story a bit of humanity. Other times it was deeply annoying, like the fact that I never learned who anybody was beyond the two main characters, despite how much of the book was from somebody else’s point of view besides those two.
I see here that there’s another book in the series. In fact, The Cruachan and The Killane is book two. As usual, nothing anywhere on or in this book indicated that fact. I had to find it out by looking it up online. Would reading the first book in the series fill in some of the gaps? Would I feel the need to reevaluate this novel? I don’t know. I probably won’t ever know.
2 thoughts on “The Cruachan and the Killane”
Since I don’t know of the author at all, I had nothing to go by but the cover… Which is one of those great Curtis Books photo covers with a GI Joe doll in the GI Joe Mercury spacesuit… This time surrounded by green lightning.
Well, consider me warned. I will pick up a copy if, and only if, it turns up at the library book sale or somewhere else I can get if for a buck – just so I can look at that cover.
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Someone gave me this book when I was 12. It made no sense then, either.
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