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The History of Maritime Piracy

Cindy Vallar, Editor & Reviewer
P.O. Box 425, Keller, TX  76244-0425


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Books for Adults - Fiction

Flint and Silver                 Pieces of Eight                 Skull and Bones            The Traitor of Treasure Island

Fletcher and the Blue Star                Fletcher and the Flying Machine


Cover Art: Fletcher and
            the Flying Machine
Fletcher and the Flying Machine
By John Drake
Lume Books, 2022, ISBN 978-1-83901-458-1, US $12.99
Also available in e-book formats

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Nothing normal happens to Fletcher (also known as Sir Jacob Fletcher or Jacky Flash). Unless you’ve encountered one of his previous escapades, the names probably mean little, so who is he? He’s the illegitimate son of a knight of the realm, who never wanted to be in the Sea Service, but was impressed into the navy upon the devious scheming of the one woman who abhors him – Lady Sarah Coignwood, his stepmother. He also has a particular interest in the latest technology of the time – 1803 to 1804 in this case – and the more radical the concept the better. This encounter involves aerial navigation and a flying carriage.
When our story opens, Fletcher is on the outs with the Admiralty in spite of the country being at war with France. To pass the days, he’s spending time with his sister in the countryside, where he encounters ingenious neighbors. A young boy named Arthur Bayley and his grandfather are flying a kite, but theirs is no ordinary flying machine. This one is big enough and strong enough to carry a man. His fascination piqued, Fletcher immediately befriends them and, during the ensuing days, learns that he’s going to be recalled into active service. Arthur, who is struck by a bit of hero worship, requests that he be allowed to go to sea with Fletcher – a boon that Fletcher grants even though he’s wary of ever regaining the Admiralty’s favor.

Of course, he does, but hasn’t a clue as to why. The assignment initially seems enticing until he discovers no one else wants it. Why? Because the Sea Service is unable to provide all he needs to carry out his mission, which is protecting the whole of Ireland from a French invasion. The Irish, who are forever at odds with themselves, have united in hopes of gaining Bonaparte’s assistance in rising up against the English and tossing them out of Ireland. The British have no intention of allowing this, but there are many things that can go wrong, which makes Fletcher just the man for the job. He will either sink or swim and, should he sink, he’s the perfect scapegoat.

Setting Fletcher up to take the fall isn’t that unusual. His knack for out-of-the-box thinking has saved his life and those of his men, as well as the honor of the Sea Service and the country, more than once before. Being kept in the dark about certain matters puts Fletcher on his toes and he adeptly manages with what he’s got and each and every man under him gives his all, including Bayley. A ship fire, a lopsided sea battle pitting Fletcher’s meager squadron against French warships, a fractious alliance between Irish rivals, the captivating Irish woman (deemed a witch by some) who keeps them united, and a haughty, by-the-book dragoon lead Fletcher on a merry, but bloody, escapade that eventually lands him in jail. But machinations – both good and bad – are afoot to once again employ Fletcher in an impossible scheme to extricate a Russian grand duchess from a Baltic castle that’s been under siege for two years. If the honorable and esteemed Edward Pellew couldn’t manage it, how in the world will Fletcher?

This is my first foray into Admiral Sir Jacob Fletcher’s memoirs, but this seventh book in the series is a rousing romp. Drake expertly crafts a serpentine labyrinth that neatly combines the improbable with the outlandish in a manner that is both believable and compelling. There are moments of levity, but Drake tells it as it is, neither sugarcoating the violence nor avoiding compromising situations of a more intimate nature, which is why this book is for mature readers. He includes a gripping depiction of why seamen fear fire, and historical details and navy life are seamlessly interwoven into the story.

Fletcher is an “enormous” character – both literally and figuratively – who is larger-than-life and charismatic in ways that endear him to the common man even though he stands on the quarterdeck, otherwise known as officer territory.
The majority of the story unfolds from his first-person perspective with occasional interludes to provide readers with a fuller account of what transpires. The Rev. Dr. Samuel Pettit, who transcribes Fletcher’s twenty-five-volume memoirs, inserts intermittent bracketed comments that chastise or contradict Fletcher. Third-person scenes share background glimpses of the story that Fletcher has no way of knowing but are key to fully understanding what transpires.

Fletcher and the Flying Machine is riveting, complex, preposterous, and entertaining. Whether you’re a diehard fan of Jacky Flash or a newcomer like Arthur Bayley, Drake will soon snare you in an audacious adventure that eagerly has you waiting for another madcap adventure.

Review Copyright ©2022 Cindy Vallar

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Reviews by Irwin Bryan

Cover Art: Flint and Silver
Flint and Silver
By John Drake
Simon & Schuster, 2010, ISBN 9781416592778, $22.99
eBook: 2009, ISBN 9781439130315, $10.93

HarperCollins, 2010, ISBN 978-0-00-726894-8,
£7.99
eBook: 2008, ISBN 978-0-00-730316-8,
£4.99

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If you read and loved Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, you were left with questions about how and why the treasure was buried, where Silver’s parrot came from, and certainly wondered how Silver lost his leg. Luckily, John Drake pondered these same issues and decided to write a series of prequels to Treasure Island. Finally, these and other questions are plausibly answered in Flint and Silver.

At first the chapters jump from one date to another and from Flint to Silver. This can make keeping track of things and going with the flow a bit difficult. But once Flint and Silver meet, you realize the opening chapters allow each person’s character and history to be established separately, and the flow of events gets easier.

Flint is clearly evil and vile. Silver is nicer and more honorable. Together these men captain two pirate crews joined together. The various forms of riches each crew acquired separately are pooled together and added to with more piratical captures.

Then Flint launches his plan to bury the treasure on his secret island. His crew will agree to whatever he says. But Silver, and then his crew, doesn’t agree and a rift forms. Debate and conflict are the result.

Obviously, if you read Treasure Island that is, Flint has his way and the riches get buried in a secret spot. He takes extra steps to insure the location is known only to him. A battle between the two crews leaves Silver’s wrecked on the island and Flint sailing away. Thus setting the stage for a confrontation in the second book, Pieces of Eight. (I read the first chapter of the second book. At the end I had a very sinister laugh!)

This trilogy, which begins with Flint and Silver, is for adults only, meshes very well with Stevenson’s original work, and answers the questions the original work left in our minds. Better yet, they’re a great read full of exciting action and colorful characters.
Read an Excerpt
  John Drake talks about his book

Review Copyright ©2013 Irwin Bryan

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Cover Art:
                Pieces of Eight
Pieces of Eight
By John Drake
HarperCollins, 2010, ISBN 978-0-00-726896-2, AUS $24.99 / £7.99
eBook: 2009, ISBN 978-0-00-733223-6, £5.99

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In Pieces of Eight, the second book of the Flint and Silver trilogy, John Drake continues his prequel to Treasure Island. I thought the first book was a great read, and it was, but this next book was a fantastic read!

There were times when pivotal events happen in the span of two or three pages that totally took me by surprise. All the elements of a good pirate tale are found in this one novel: Pirates chasing merchant ships, naval ships chasing pirates, in-fighting among the brethren, a beautiful woman to add a little conflict and romance, cannon fire and casualties, stormy seas, and always the buried treasure to be secured.

For Flint and his crew, the action takes place heading to Charleston and then back to his island. Silver and his crew are on the island, taking steps to prepare and defend it from the vast number of fighters he expects Flint to return with. In this he guesses correctly, but even he never expects to fight the enemy his crew ends up facing. Flint returns with a vengeance and an army ready and able to do his bidding.

That’s as much substance as I’ll share. But I’ll tell you this: the cover of the book advertises “High Seas, High Adventure, Lowest Treachery.” All can be found in this one story, and you can never imagine how low the treachery will go!

The story culminates in more surprises and unresolved issues. I’m glad I have the third book, Skull and Bones, on hand to begin reading immediately!


Review Copyright ©2013 Irwin Bryan

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Cover Art: Skull and Bones
Skull and Bones
By John Drake

HarperCollins, 2011, ISBN 978-0-00-726899-3, £7.99 / AUS $24.99 / CAN $17.99
eBook ISBN 978-0-00-736614-9, £13.99

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Usually when you read a trilogy, the third or last book is about the final push toward the goal, the culmination of efforts to achieve success, or the end of a voyage or trek to a homecoming.

In John Drake’s third book in the series, Skull and Bones, you read how Flint and Silver fail to obtain their treasure or reconcile their differences. This neatly sets up Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island at the beginning of his classic tale. They, or at least Silver’s crew, is already on the island holding the treasure. Flint succeeds in dealing with Silver’s crew and the threat they posed to his wealth. The next thing you know, another interloper drives them all from the island.

In the process Silver regains his ship and convinces the crew to sail for England and redemption of a kind. Flint, without a ship or a crew, finds suitable accommodation on an English warship and also heads for England and his own attempt at redemption.

Although that redemption may not all work out as they each hope, they leave England as one crew, with Flint and Silver each holding half of the map to the treasure and heading for the island to reclaim it. But greed, jealousy, and Fate conspire against them, and the survivors leave empty-handed and altered by the experience.

John Drake’s Flint & Silver trilogy is wonderfully entertaining, and I heartily recommend the books to anyone thinking of returning to Treasure Island! And there’s also an author’s comment at the end that indicates Drake may be writing his own version of Treasure Island!


Review Copyright ©2013 Irwin Bryan

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Cover Art: The Traitor of Treasure Island
The Traitor of Treasure Island: The Truth at Last. What Really Happened on Treasure Island.
By John Drake
Endeavour Quill, 2019, ISBN 978-1-911445-72-2 UK £7.99 / US $9.99

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This new book is the fourth in Drake’s “Flint and Silver” series. I recommend you read the other books first – not because you need to for the sake of clarity – they’re just great books you shouldn’t miss. Anyone familiar with the story of Treasure Island knows enough to read and enjoy this book by itself.

Almost every character that appears in Stevenson’s original story can be found within these pages. There are the pirates (Billy Bones, Israel Hands, Blind Pew, Flint, and Long John Silver), the map-holding treasure-hunting Squire Trelawney and Dr. Livesey, and even the boy, Jim Hawkins.

These represent three separate groups hoping to recover the treasure. The squire fits out a ship, the Hispaniola, for the expedition and inadvertently hires Long John Silver as the cook and his henchmen as part of the crew. They travel together to the island. Flint sails his own ship and pirate crew there. All the players expect to recover the treasure or take it from those who do.

Once they arrive at their destination the real fun begins. As soon as Hispaniola anchors, the crew is given a chance to land and relax after the long journey. Unknown to the squire, Silver knows where weapons are stored, and the pirates arm themselves with muskets, pistols, and cutlasses. Once back on the beach they board the boats intent on taking the ship for themselves.

To avoid a deadly confrontation, the doctor convinces the squire and loyal men to take a boat to the island and give up the ship for now. On shore they head to the only building, the same blockhouse where Silver armed his men.

These two groups engage in combat, and members from both fall in a war of attrition. Situations change once Flint arrives at the island to carry out his own evil designs.

But I don’t plan on revealing any more of the story here. To find out who lives and who dies, if the treasure is found, or if anyone succeeds in bringing it home, you’re going to have to read the book for yourselves.

I will say this regarding the book’s title: Jim Hawkins is the traitor. Gone is the innocent lad of Stevenson’s tale. At first, I was not happy with Hawkins cast as the traitor. But he really excels in “traitoring,” and it’s a more natural fit than I ever expected!

Once the island adventure ends, Drake provides an epilogue that ties up the loose ends and sheds light on the surviving characters and their futures. An afterword includes Long John Silver’s Articles that all the pirates signed; a note about alcohol consumption in the eighteenth century; a comment about the value of the buried treasure; and the full text of the Royal Navy Prayer mentioned in the story.

If you’re looking for a fun book with a great story, there’s no need to look any further. This one has action, excitement, and even some laughs. You’ll find piratical acts, shifting alliances, and numerous plot twists. In time this will be considered one of the classic tales of the pirate genre.


Watch the book trailer
Watch an interview with the author

Review Copyright ©2019 Irwin Bryan

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Cover Art: Fletcher and the
          Blue Star
Fletcher and the Blue Star
By John Drake
Lume Books, eBook ISBN 978-1-83901-269-3, UK £1.99 / US $2.99
Print ISBN 978-1-83901-426-0, UK £9.99 / US $13.99

The sixth Fletcher book is a welcome addition to this series. Although he resigned his Royal Navy commission in the previous book, a way has been contrived to see him back in command of a king’s ship again in 1801.

And what a ship! Tromenderon is a new 90-gun ship of the line with the speed of a frigate and 32-pounders on every deck. A special ship that needs a special captain: Captain Jacob “Jacky Flash” Fletcher. To the Admiralty, he is respected as a master at his craft whose ships always have the best rate of fire and most accurate gunnery. His men love him with almost religious fervor as the captain who takes the most prizes and loses the fewest men.

The reason the British government wants Fletcher as Tromenderon’s captain is because the wonderful ship is not the only one like it afloat. Fletcher needs to take his ship to Boston to find and face three new French ships that are armed and sail like his. The resulting battle takes chapters of intense action to tell.

After Fletcher boards the last captured vessel, he retrieves the Blue Star from the hands of his enemy. This large and wondrous diamond may have come from a mine in Africa.

This author’s books often have a second story that runs parallel to the first, with most chapters starting with this second thread. In this case, the book begins with a negotiation between an Arab and an unknown individual about capturing fifty virgin Zulu women. As the tale progresses, we are introduced to the Zulu nation, their religion, and their rituals. Even though this portion of the book is interesting – if a bit tedious at times – it’s very different from what’s happening on Tromenderon. This second story is not why I’m reading this book, but the disparate stories finally merge about two-thirds through the book.

In England, Fletcher takes the Blue Star to the foreign secretary and tells him about the mine. Astronomers want to view a solar eclipse, but it won’t be visible in England. The secretary and Fletcher hatch a plan to use the eclipse as an excuse to send a king’s ship to Africa and the expedition sets sail aboard Tromenderon. While the astronomers wait for the eclipse, he searches for the mine in hopes of bringing the rest of the diamonds home to England.

Fletcher cooperates with the village leader and helps him be victorious in battle against a rival neighbor. Fletcher also intends to use the eclipse as great magic to remove the influence of the local witches. If all goes well, his reward will be the diamonds. Dealing with the Zulus and their rituals, however, proves challenging for him and his men, especially since the lovely women are naked.

Some traditionalists may think to pass up this story since there never was a 90-gun ship of the line with the speed of a frigate, but they would be doing themselves a disservice. Tromenderon only battles the similar French ships so there is no advantage, and the battle is a great read.

This is a fun, rousing book with plenty of action, humor, and characters that come to life on these pages. The exotic descriptions of Africa make it seem as if you are there. If you are looking for an exciting book or a light-hearted page turner, Fletcher and the Blue Star is for you.

Review Copyright ©2021 Irwin Bryan

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