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Cindy Vallar, Editor & Reviewer
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Books for Adults - Fiction

Gather the Shadowmen               Prince of the Atlantic          Napoleon's Gold        The Butcher's Daughter

Cover Art: Gather the Shadowmen
Gather the Shadowmen
By Mark M. McMillin
Hephaestus Publishing, 1999, ISBN 978-0-9838179-0-1, $15.95 / £25

StarStarStarStarStar

Never sailed with a braver or better man than Luke Ryan. He was fearless and he was like a fox. I swear that man could’ve out-sailed the devil himself. Knew how to read the hearts and minds of men too. A real leader.
Such words bring Charles Crook, a writer of stories for newspapers, to a waterfront tavern in Newport, Rhode Island. He searches for a weathered seaman with a jagged scar that traces his jaw, in hopes he will talk about an Irish privateer named Luke Ryan. In exchange for food and drink, Johnny Trevett obliges, spinning a tale that captivates not only Crook, but all those huddled around the hearth for warmth and shelter one stormy night.

All Ryan wants is to better himself, but prejudice against the Irish forces him to erase his brogue and assume the persona of an Englishman, Lieutenant Roberts. After a French warship opens fire on HMS Rose, Luke takes action since Captain Hughes prefers to tipple a bottle rather than command the ship in battle. Luke deftly thwarts the trouble, but ruffles Hughes’ feathers in doing so, which result in an accusation of “dereliction of duty in the face of the enemy” and the flaying of another Irish crewman’s back with the cat-o’-nine-tails.

The prospect of an impending court-martial and the bigotry shown his fellow Irish force Luke to alter his path in life. With the help of the captured French sailors, Luke and his mates take a soft farewell of the Rose and sail their prize ship to France. Having “buried” the English Luke Roberts, Ryan and his friends smuggle cargo between France and Ireland. Their success and their ship soon become legendary, and the Royal Navy hunts these “shadowmen.” If caught, Luke and his friends will rot in prison. Should the English learn they are deserters, they will be executed.

While researching the privateers of the American Revolution for a presentation, I stumbled across the name Luke Ryan. I became further intrigued because he was Irish (some of my ancestors hailed from the Emerald Isle) and his letter of marque came from Ben Franklin (a tidbit my history teachers omitted from their lessons). Yet details of Ryan’s life and exploits are scarce. McMillin remedies this in Gather the Shadowmen, the first book in The Lords of the Ocean trilogy.

I came across some minor errors while reading the book, which the author promises to fix in the new edition of this tale. It also needs a good copyedit, but these are trifles that are easily set aside. McMillin skillfully recreates Luke Ryan and his fellow Irishmen, and ties the scattered remnants of these smugglers into a riveting tale of nail-biting suspense, palpable danger, and heartwarming romance. Beware, though: once ensnared, you will crave to read more to discover how Ryan becomes Franklin’s “most dangerous privateer” and what happens to him once the American Revolution draws to a close.

Stay tuned for further reviews of this swashbuckling trilogy. Perhaps when it ends, we’ll learn just how Mr. Trevett crossed paths with the Shadowmen.

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Review Copyrighted ©2012 Cindy Vallar

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Cover Art:
                Prince of the Atlantic
Prince of the Atlantic
By Mark M. McMillin
Hephaestus Publishing, 2012, ISBN 978-0-9838179-1-8, $15.95

In June of 1779, Luke Ryan and his fellow Irish smugglers acquire a letter of marque from Dr. Benjamin Franklin, who represents the fledgling United States at the Court of Versailles in France. As American privateers, they set sail aboard the Black Prince to capture English merchantmen during the War of Independence. Franklin’s goal is to acquire sufficient prisoners to force the British to exchange their captured subjects for American prisoners of war, who languish in horrible conditions in jails like Old Mill Prison. To gain the letter of marque, however, Ryan must hire an American master named Stephan Marchant and his first mate, Jonathan Arnold. The latter’s sailing acumen is questionable, while the former hasn’t a clue that he’s just a figurehead and has no experience commanding a privateer. Before long, however, the true captain of the Black Prince becomes apparent and the privateers become so successful they add two additional warships to their fleet.
 
All attempts by the British navy to capture Ryan and his men prove unsuccessful, leaving the First Lord of the Admiralty no alternative but to set in motion a two-pronged attack against the privateers. One involves Shannon O’Keefe, who manages her father’s smuggling business and whom Luke Ryan loves. The First Lord also meets with his French counterpart. Although their countries are at war, the two men have secretly carried on ventures profitable to both. As the snare tightens, Luke finds himself in deadly straits while some of his Irishmen discover that those who appear to be friends are really enemies intent on destroying the Shadowmen.
 
This second installment in the life of Luke Ryan has a slower pace than the first title, Gather the Shadowmen, in part because a fair portion of the first half of the book involves seizure after seizure of enemy vessels. The side stories, although woven into the narrative throughout the book, are fewer in number and less dynamic until the events that the First Lord puts into motion in Ireland come to fruition. In spite of this, McMillin remains true to history as he presents this fictional account of Luke Ryan as an American privateer. Readers familiar with the characters will feel as if they’ve met up with old friends. Those who haven’t read the first book will enjoy the voyage, which is laced with romance, danger, intrigue, humor, and heartache.

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Review Copyrighted ©2012 Cindy Vallar

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Cover Art:
                    Napoleon's Gold
Napoleon’s Gold
By Mark M. McMillin
Hephaestus Publishing, 2012, ISBN 978-0-9838179-2-5, $16.95

StarStarStarStarStar

Luke Ryan finds himself in an English prison in 1781, having mistaken a British warship for a Greenland whaler. With the Shadowmen scattered to the wind, he contemplates his last days with little hope of surviving his trial for “Mayhem, Murder, Felony Piracy on the High Seas & High Treason”. (36)  In spite of the able defense by William Peckham, Esquire, Ryan is convicted and sentenced to death. The timely intervention from an unexpected source, however, secures Ryan’s freedom three years later, and he makes his way back to France to search for his men.

Meanwhile, back in France, James Patrick Dowlin (Luke’s right-hand man) finds himself a lieutenant in the French navy. But wine, women, and a grudge against the captain who destroyed the Black Prince lead to a duel, which through trickery and deceit, result in Dowlin’s arrest. Taken to the Bastille, he languishes there until June 1787.

Ryan discovers that his funds from privateering are gone and that his former business partner is destitute. He also learns that he has a daughter, who is being raised by a family in Lyon. The only crewmember he locates, though, is Jumbaaliyia, and together they find work on a merchantman. After that ship sinks during a storm, the two men are picked up by a Greek galley, where they become slaves forced to row day and night. But Ryan is a thinker, and before long he sets in motion a plan that gains his freedom, as well as that of Jumbaaliyia and a Spaniard.

Plucked out of the sea once again, this time by Riff pirates. Once on land, Jumbaaliyia recognizes their leader, Cassapan, a friend who is like a brother. With Cassapan’s aid, Ryan and Jumbaaliyia again become a smuggler – this time forging an alliance with a Corsican named Joseph Bonaparte. When they finally return to France, Ryan secures Dowlin’s release from the Bastille. With the Shadowmen together once again, they embark on new smuggling ventures.

But France is no longer the same country the Irishmen once knew. The monarchy has been overthrown and a bloodthirsty madness encompasses most of France. When they arrive in Toulon, where Bonaparte now lives, Ryan hears tales of the revolution and Joseph Fouché, a sadist bent on executing men, women, and children in Lyon. Without a moment’s rest, Ryan and his men begin the dangerous trek across France to rescue his daughter.

From a tavern in Rhode Island to the Old Bailey in London to war-torn France to Egypt and the defeat of the French navy at Aboukir Bay, this final book in the trilogy provides a roller coaster adventure where our hero ultimately meets and aids General Napoleon Bonaparte. We discover the true identity of John Trevett, the elderly seaman who’s been recounting the exploits of Luke Ryan to the reporter, Charles Crook; experience the bloodletting of the French Revolution first-hand; grit our teeth at the treachery and betrayal the Shadowmen encounter; and weep and rejoice at the devastation and reunions they endure. This volume has a heavy dose of purple prose and is a tad lengthy at 407 pages. It’s difficult to figure out to which of Ryan’s love interests he pens his letters. The book could also stand the assistance of a good copy editor, but in spite of these flaws, Napoleon’s Gold is a heartrending, but inspiring, sail through the treacherous years between the end of the American Revolution and 1816, when the story ends. Readers who crave history mixed with fictional escapades spiced with intrigue, gumption, daring, and realism will not be disappointed.
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Review Copyrighted ©2012 Cindy Vallar

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Cover Art: The
                Butcher's Daughter
The Butcher’s Daughter: A Journey Between Worlds
By Mark M. McMillin
Hephaestus, 2015, ISBN 978-0-9838179-3-2, $14.95
e-book ISBN 978-0-938179-3-6, $3.99
 
At the age of twelve, Mary witnesses her father’s murder and is then raped by the perpetrators, whom she kills. Thus begins the tale “Lady” Mary weaves to Queen Elizabeth while imprisoned in the Tower of London on charges of piracy. Young Mary spends the next few years under the tutelage of a smuggler, where she becomes adept at this trade and falls in love with ships and the sea. A bequest gains her sufficient funds to purchase her own vessel, and she becomes a successful smuggler in her own right.

What Mary lacks is power, and thus she must pay a percentage of her take to the Dowlin brothers, brutal men who kill for sport. But jealousy makes the eldest Dowlin lash out against her, and an innocent child pays the price. Thereafter, Mary bides her time before unleashing her vengeance and stealing his buried treasure. Those two deeds infuriate the other Dowlin brothers, known simply as the Twins, and they vow retribution.

With Ireland no longer a safe haven, Mary and her crew head to the Caribbean. They meet Cortes, an influential businessman in Cuba, and they become partners. Mary and her men bring supplies and luxuries from the Old World to Cortes, who arranges for the authorities to look the other way, and once the ships’ holds are empty, they are laden with goods from the New World and Mary’s men smuggle them into Europe.

But the Caribbean is a dangerous place. The Twins haven’t forgotten Mary and when all is ready, they spring their trap. She finds herself betrayed by friends. Tortured and imprisoned, she waits for the hangman’s noose. A man she thought dead returns from the grave. A chance meeting with a stranger provides a unique proposition offering her freedom . . . yet at a price.

The Butcher’s Daughter is a gritty tale not for the faint of heart. It takes place in the years before, during, and after the sailing of the Spanish Armada. McMillan pulls no punches here, and in spite of the violent world in which Mary lives, she possesses a moral compass that draws readers in and never releases them. The story ebbs and flows like the tide with high periods of tension and peaceful interludes where readers can regain their breath. The only place where the story’s pace slows to a snail’s crawl is during the recounting of Spain’s attempt to invade England, and this is perhaps because Mary tells what occurs for too many pages rather than letting readers participate in events as they unfold, as happens throughout the rest of the book.

What makes this novel different from other piratical tales are the time period – Elizabethan – and smuggling. This is not to say pirates don’t make appearances from time to time; they do, and even if the Dowlins claim to be smugglers, their behavior easily compares to such infamous pirates as L’Olonnais or Ned Low. For readers seeking the history behind the fiction, McMillin also includes an afterword where he discusses the dawn of the Age of Sail, Elizabethan ships and guns, and relevant odds and ends of historical facts.

 
Review Copyrighted ©2016 Cindy Vallar

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