Zeuglodon is James P. Blaylock’s sort of indirect sequel to his 1984 novel, The Digging Leviathan, published by Subterranean Press in a limited and trade edition. The book is sold out, but if readers are lucky a trade/paperback publisher will pick up the book as a young adult novel and gain Blaylock the audience that the book deserves.
Zeuglodon follows the rich tradition of books by writers like Enid Blyton and her Famous Five books, Arthur Ransome‘s Swallows and Amazons novels, and other tales about kids who experience adventure, not to mention the various books that Blaylock acknowledges ih his brief preface. While The Digging Leviathan included a pair of teenagers in the supporting cast, that book focused mainly on the adult perspective. The narrator in Zeuglodon is young Kathleen Perkins, or Perkins as she generally is called in the book. Though nearly 12 years old, she seems wise for her years, and considers herself a cryptozoologist. Her cousins, Brendan and Perry (though very likely a coincidence, the names threw me for a loop as I kept thinking of the Dead Can Dance co-founder Brendan Perry throughout the novel), are a year younger and older, respectively.
Officially parent-less, they live with an uncle (Hedgepeth) who provides them with a unique education and lets them roam more or less freely. This benign neglect raises the ire of their busybody Aunt Ricketts, who believes children should attend school and not run around cliffs and beaches. She hires a certain Ms. Peckworthy, a “member of a very troublesome do-gooder society” to try to prove that the dangerous actions of the children makes their uncle an unquitable guardian, and thus they can be taken away and “raised properly.” At the same time they run into another person with strange intentions, whom they nickname Lord Wheyface the Creeper, or just “the Creeper” from his appearance. The Creeper is after something that their uncle takes care of, artifacts owned by Basil Peach and the Peach family, who featured in The DIgging Leviathan. Hedgepeth and his friends deduce that behind the Creeper stands Dr. Hilario Frosticos, the nemesis in The Digging Leviathan, who seems like a modern echo of Dr. Ignacio Narbondo, noted antagonist of Blaylock’s many Langdon St. Ives stories.
With the added ingredients of Ms. Peckworthy and the Creeper, the lives of the three kids and their uncle spins and accelerates toward something new. Toss in the arrival of Lala Peach, the young daughter of Basil Peach, and the adventure shifts from a sea-side California town to the Lake District in the UK, a confrontation with Frosticos, and the dreamworld of the Peach family that become all to real for those who visit it. Hedgepeth and crew assist valiantly, but the kids form the core of this novel.
Subtitled “The True Adventures of Kathleen Perkins, Cryptozoologist”, Blaylock’s novel hits the perfect tune as a young adult adventure. There’s no magic or boarding school hijinks, although there is magic in Blaylock’s words and wonderful narrative tone and humor. A mainstream paperback publisher needs to pick up this book and get more copies into the hands of young readers. That said, Zeuglodon is a book anyone can enjoy, and the 200 odd pages whizzed past almost too quickly. Hopefully there will be more tales from Ms. Perkins and her crew.