Recommended Age, Grade, and Reading Levels
- Age: 9 to 12
- Grade: 4 to 7
Before the time of Moby Dick, when whaling ships first began hunting in the mid-Atlantic, the ocean was said to be harbor monsters. Below the nine islands of the Azores one such monster waits. He waits for those that murder his kin, the whalers with their longboats and deadly harpoons.
Antonio is a big man, a harpooner long sworn to kill the monster whale that plagues his homeland's waters. While chasing the great beast he finds a boy, wounded and floating on the sea. With no memory of who he is or where he came from, the boy's survival seems a miracle to the harpooner and Antonio becomes his protector. Together they face the rigors of life on a whaling vessel, hunting and killing the largest thing that has ever lived.
As the boy's respect for both the whaler and the whales themselves grows, he becomes tormented by visions and memories he doesn't understand. It's a life of blood and fire, sailing endlessly for whales to kill and render profits from.
Until they battle the leviathan, the monster whale that will lead the boy to the whaler's homeland. An island beset by pirates and war; an island that will restore his memories and teach the boy the true meaning of strength and courage.
About the author
Michael Moniz spent his childhood living between the big city and the tranquil Azores islands of Portugal. It is this unique upbringing and an early appreciation for culture and the arts that inspired Michael’s creativity at young age. His first book, Wazzyjump, also published by Simply Read Books, received a starred Kirkus review. The “luminous” and “delicacy” of its illustrations (Quill and Quire), as well as its “delightful tale of mystery, discovery, and friendship” (CM Magazine) are the signature for Michael’s whimsical creative style. When Michael is not telling stories, he works as an Artistic Director for a Toronto-based advertising agency.
Excerpt: The Whalemaster (by (author) Michael Moniz)
A ship is a pretty thing: its complex of ropes, pulleys and timber, its sails billowing—ghostly and beautiful over the water.
They were closing in on the ship. Soon the screaming would start and dragon fire would be licking at those pretty white sails.
Captain Dougan, also known as ‘The Dragon’ to those who feared him, grinned broadly. Another ship would be his and all its treasures surrendered.
He wore a splendid red uniform with shining black boots. Sashes stuffed with pistols and daggers crisscrossed his broad chest. His eyes were ice blue. His hair and beard both a curling, golden blonde. He was a tall and fierce figure, dashing and regal.
The Spanish had given him the name ‘Dragon’ after a particularly lucrative pillaging of one of their treasure ships. The Spaniards had a hard time pronouncing his name, so ‘Dougan’ became ‘Dragon’, a title better suited to his nature.
He carried a long-sword with an ornate pummel in the shape of a serpent which twisted and wrapped itself around the metal handle. His face, tanned bronze, was without blemish or wrinkle. A single gold tooth gleamed out from a menacing grin.
“Lower those colors! Raise the Dragon!” Dougan roared.
It was a common trick. To fool a merchant vessel with its own country’s flag, the old flag of England. His own emblem was very fitting, a dragon in a field of red; a fearsome sight for any ship on these waters.
“Fire the cannon. Careful not to hit them, Mr. Scrab,” the Captain boomed. “A close shave will do!” “Aye, Captain!” said the old pirate quartermaster.
Scrab was a gruesome figure. He had only one leg and hobbled around on a wooden stump. His ancient face was lined with old scars and deep wrinkles, like a discarded piece of torn leather. He wore a large, floppy hat and carried a heavy saber. His black clothes were covered in stains. Inside his dozen pockets he carried an untold number of knives and daggers. Scrab was just as awful as he looked. He was unmatched, except perhaps by the Captain himself, in the arts of cruelty. In all the seas, the Captain’s black soul was undoubtedly the blackest.
The Red Gull shuddered with each roar of the cannon. There was no other ship like her; a twenty-six-gun frigate with a reinforced hull tinted a deep crimson. It was a deadly man-o-war, with a crew of over two hundred cutthroats and murderers to man her.
The merchant ship was a heavy, slow thing, with only sixteen useless cannons. The crew of twenty could barely manage to fire three of the puny guns at once. The balls rattled harmlessly against the reinforced hull of the pirate ship, bouncing off and into the sea.
“Prepare the men, Mr. Scrab,” said the Captain, suppressing a tired yawn.
“Get yourselves together, lads! We board them soon,” Scrab yelled.
The filthy band huddled around him. Their grappling hooks, pistols and axes at the ready. As the men hooted and yelped, the opposing crew scrambled with fear, trembling behind their muskets.
The merchant ship crackled, dainty plumes of white smoke obscuring its riggings. A cannon ball rumbled across the pirate deck, crushing one of the crew as it passed.
“They dare!” croaked Scrab. “Let fly, men!”
Grenados spun in the air, whizzing and sparkling before exploding on the merchant vessel. The panic-stricken crew on the merchant ship began to scream as they crouched low for cover.
Dougan coolly watched a helmsmen stagger backwards, his chest blown out. The sailor at the wheel next to him fell from a musket ball, and the ship veered starboard.
Grappling hooks flew out, hitching and pulling the hapless ship alongside.
A white flag waved in the air. Not soon enough for the Dragon.
Dougan was the first over the side and was welcomed by the startled face of a young midshipman as he thudded onto the merchant deck. The man crumpled beneath the Dragon’s sword. The Dragon continued into the mess of men, his blade gleaming as it hacked down the helpless crew.
Scrab was cackling madly, the head of the merchant ship’s captain cradled in his arm.
Big Billy, every inch of him covered in tattoos, gave a threatening roar. His painted face and torso were splattered red, his axe dripping with gore.
The pirates ignored the pleas for mercy as they ran wild, the deck slippery beneath their boots. Now in a desperate frenzy, the merchant crew began throwing themselves headlong overboard.
The Dragon relished the moment, closing his eyes and inhaling the acrid scent of iron and blood. Dougan was born for this life. He was no ordinary man after all. He was the Captain, the Dragon, and the single greatest scourge of all the Atlantic.
The sails glowed an eerie orange in the smoke. The flames crawled up the masts.
“Damn!” Dougan cursed. He would have to be quick. It would not be long now before the ship burned completely, sinking into the deep.
“Take what you can and kill the rest of them! This ship will turn to kindling in this breeze,” Dougan shouted.
“Candles!” spat Scrab. “The ship’s full of candles, silks and finery, Captain.”
Dougan groaned. Merchant ships carried many goods and the like for the new world. The candles and items of fashion held a high price, and were much sought after. Now they would only help the ship burn up all the faster.
The pirates leapt off, leaving their dead victims behind them. They pushed away the burning ship with long pikes, a heavy black smoke rising from it, the smell of smoldering flesh carried in the air above it.
“A shame,” said the ship’s sailing master, Talbot Croon. Talbot was a fat waddling figure with a tall, feathered hat and red beard. He was touchy about his missing ear, and his wide red face gave him a fevered, angry appearance. He had been pressed into service from a captured ship not long ago, but even still, he was well liked by the men and Dougan resented him for it.
“Ha! There will be more ships. Don’t you concern yourself,” Dougan growled.
“We opened up too soon on ’em,” grumbled Talbot.
“Not fast enough!” snarled Scrab.
“Don’t be so squeamish, Croon. When the flag goes up, I expect immediate surrender. After all, we have a reputation to maintain,” Dougan chuckled.
“Reputation? There’s no one left on that blasted ship! What stories be coming out of that mess, Captain?” “Exactly. No one fires on my ship and lives to tell the tale. This is all part of the game; breathe it in, Talbot. This is what glory smells like.”
Talbot looked back and forth at Scrab and Dougan, shaking his head.
Dougan gave his sailing master a dark look; why he tolerated the weak fool was beyond him. He’d never even seen the man slit a throat.
“Captain, look there!” exclaimed Scrab, thrusting a blackened finger at the flaming ship.
A woman was visible now, calling to the pirate crew. She had long black hair and wore a white dress, which was blowing before the flames. A boy stood clinging to her, a child no more than ten or so. He was frozen in fear, his face streaked with soot and tears.
“The woman must have been hiding below,” Talbot muttered.
The Captain’s face flushed. “Stupid,” he sighed, shaking his head.
“Should I send over a few of the men, Captain?” Talbot asked, twisting his thick beard. “Save the lass and her whelp?”
Dougan winced, considering the matter. “Bah!” he blustered. “That ship will crash in on itself soon enough. No sense in risking any of the men.”
Scrab grunted and gave the Captain a reassuring nod. “Best keep the woman away. Bad luck aboard ship and all.”
“But they could be worth something. Ransom maybe?” Talbot blurted.
Dougan scowled, “Look at them. They’re poor wretches, worthless. Probably bartered everything they had for passage on that ship. You’re a fool, Talbot, a damn fool.”
Talbot lowered his gaze, the Captain’s eyes burrowing in on him.
The woman was pleading in a shrill voice from her ruined ship. “Save him,” she shouted, motioning to her petrified son.
The crew of The Red Gull jeered at the desperate woman.
The pirates leaned casually against the railing, waiting for the ship to sink and put the two survivors out of their misery.
“Will that damn ship ever go down?” Dougan growled.
“Won’t be long now, Captain,” said Scrab.
The crew waved mockingly, the woman clasping hands with the child before jumping overboard. They hit the water hard, waves crashing over them, threatening to swallow them whole.
Two heads emerged from the rolling water. Dougan caught sight of their frightened faces just as the flaming ship keeled over. There came a loud crack, the jumble of wood and sails folding over, sinking into the sea.
They were gone.
“Pity,” Talbot whispered.
There was nothing left of the ship on the choppy water, just the greasy black cloud of its extinguished fire, slowly trailing and evaporating over the pirate vessel.
“Aye,” muttered Scrab. “Least it was quick!”
There was silence, the men looking out at the grey foaming sea as the surface cleared. The bloody work was done.
The Captain scratched his beard, shivered slightly from the cool breeze and turned towards the upper ship. He reeled at a strange and sudden noise, a loud clicking sound growing through the ship.
He drew his sword instinctively. Something was pushing against the ship’s hull. The vessel was shaking, sending men tumbling down around him.
Dougan’s first thought was that they were caught in the sunken wake of the sinking merchant ship, but the ship was long gone, and too far below for that. He could feel a terrible pressure, something pushing against his ship’s hull.
Scrab’s wooden leg screeched along the wet deck as he struggled to keep himself up.
A long creaking vibrated up the timbers. It sounded as though the ship were breaking apart, the wood splintering along the ship’s bottom.
“Look!” Talbot gasped, pointing to a huge shadow rippling off the port. The ominous shadow dove, vanished, and quickly appeared again off the stern. The vessel rocked violently from side to side with its swell, the Captain yelling to hold fast.
Suddenly, a mass of wrinkled grey flesh erupted on the surface, covered in salty white crisscrossing scars. Ropes flowed out from the beast, trailing from its back like long black eels. A horrible pale gash peeled along the creature’s side, visible from one end of the monster’s crested form to the other. The wound looked like it was festered, neither bleeding nor healing, and had been bleached a shade of salty white. Surely this beast was the leviathan, a beast belched up from hell.
“It’s Jonah’s whale! God’s monster sent to swallow us whole,” yelled old Lob. He was even older than Scrab with huge chewed up ears and a hollow socket where his right eye should be.
“Brace yourselves, lads!” Scrab yelled.
The beast crested close, dwarfing Dougan’s ship. It circled, the loose flesh rippling with the waves. A pair of thick lips separated from atop the creature’s head, spluttering and spraying jets of water at an odd angle.
The creature’s clicking grew louder, the deck rolling wildly with the swelling sea. The men gripped the gunwales with white knuckles, their stomachs lurching with fear.
“Prepare to fire!” yelled Dougan, swinging angrily with his sword. “Blow that thing out of the water before it smashes us to kindling!”
Muskets blazed and cannons boomed. The creature slid off the ship and dove away deftly, enveloped in the sea.
The creature’s shadow bobbed off the bow, its gargantuan head slowly rising—square, with swollen eyes. It seemed to stare for a moment, peering at the men with its reflective gaze.
The head rolled away fluidly, waves battering the ship’s sides.
The creature bent its hulking hump, the ticking quickening in its throat, like something grinding beneath the sea. Old Lob covered his gnarled up ears and gnashed his few remaining teeth.
The beast swerved, slamming its head against the hull, the sound of rushing water below deck as the creature ripped away from the ship.
Its tail pointed straight, water churning around it as it went down into the black.
“What was that?” gasped Talbot, picking himself up.
“A whale, just a whale; deformed and monstrous, but a whale all the same. The whalers have been at it, wounding it some,” said Dougan. “What damage to the hull, Mr. Scrab?”
The old pirate was peering over the railing, the men clustered all around him. “We’re taking on water, that much is for sure. Too much water, Captain.”
Scrab shrugged, “We’ll man the pumps and stay afloat a while, Captain, but my guess is we will have to dock for repairs.”
Dougan grimaced. The crew grumbled, their faces ashen and pale.
Theirs was the most wanted ship in the ocean. Every seafaring nation had designs on her and dreamed of hanging her crew.
The Captain looked about in disgust at the fear plastered on the faces of his men.
He paced along the foredeck. They had few options now that the ship was damaged. Where should they go? There was only one place, one refuge for them now. “We head for the islands, boys! They’re our only option and easy pickings to boot.”
“We should be heading away from those shores, Captain,” yelled old Lob. “Those places be hidin’ monsters and strange beasts untold of. There be stories of a monster whale that guards these waters, swallowing ships whole. That very same animal that just rammed us, sir. We should sail away, I say.”
The grumbling grew louder. “Sail west!” a man shouted.
Scrab fired a pistol in the air.
“Enough!” yelled Dougan, slashing his sword in a quick chopping motion to emphasize his authority. The men were afraid; he could feel them yearning for his strength.
Leading a pirate crew was unlike anything else. The men had to be cajoled into every action. Piracy was a kind of grim brotherhood with the Captain’s iron hand at the helm. “Scrab! How long is the voyage west?” Scrab looked at Big Bill and shook his head. “We can’t stay afloat that long, Captain. We need repairs. Fresh provisions wouldn’t hurt neither.”
Dougan pursed his lips, tapping the hilt of his sword with long fingers.
“We’ll squeeze those islands for all they’re worth, boys, while our wounded ship is tended to.” Dougan smiled at his crew, “What say you?”
“To the islands, the Azores, my boys! Come about!” yelled Dougan. “We’ll kill anything that stands in our way and leave their gold-laden churches bare! If that whale dares show again, we blow it out of the seas!” The men cheered, climbing the riggings and stomping about their tasks on deck.
Scrab shook his head, his eyes foggy.
Dougan raised an eyebrow. “You disapprove?”
“No, hardly,” Scrab shrugged.
Talbot walked up behind them, flushed and beaded with nervous sweat.
“Listen,” Scrab whispered, placing his ear against the railing “I can still hear it, that creaking sound. It’s below us I think."
Dougan felt a vibration, his hand shaking.
“That’s no ordinary whale, Captain,” said Scrab.
“What is it then?”
“Our ruin,” Scrab grumbled under his breath. “We best leave those islands, soon as the ship’s put right.” The Dragon scowled, flicking the grime from his boots with a quick motion of his sword. He turned, the men parting way for him, tipping their caps as he made for quarters. It would be comfortable there, quiet and dark, surrounded by all manner of lovely things: the booty from a hundred ships, long since left to molder, now quiet on the sea bottom.