Cindy Vallar, Editor & Reviewer
P.O. Box 425, Keller, TX 76244-0425
Books for Adults - Fiction
Once an officer in the Royal Navy, Edward Thache (pronounced “Teach”) has become disenchanted with the restrictions and interference the British government in London enacts on her colonies in the New World. Nor is he the only one who feels as he does. A growing portion of sailors, as well as some colonists, see themselves as Americans first and Englishmen second, and their dislike of these infringements and London’s unequal treatment of her colonies mirrors his own. Such thoughts seem foreign to the love of his life, Margaret of Marcus Hook, Pennsylvania. When he announces his intention of sailing to Jamaica to become a privateer and salvage gold from the Spanish treasure fleet wrecked off the coast of La Florida, she sees nothing legal about such a venture. He will just follow in Captain Kidd’s footsteps – become a pirate and hang.
Gold and silver, as well as other riches strewn across the ocean floor in July 1715, lure many others to the wreck site. By the time Edward sets sail in September, arrives in Jamaica to get his commission from the governor, and then heads to the coast of La Florida, little remains to salvage. But Henry Jennings has a plan, and Edward and three other captains join forces to raid the Spanish wreck camp ashore. No sooner do they succeed in capturing the wealth they seek, than Edward realizes he has crossed the threshold Margaret predicted and is now a pirate. No longer able to return to Jamaica or Pennsylvania, the flotilla heads for New Providence; the British colony lacks a government and none seems forthcoming, so the pirates claim it for their own. Two principal factions form this pirate republic: those who follow Jennings, an upper-middle-class landholder from Bermuda, and the Flying Gang, whose leader is Benjamin Hornigold, whom Jennings considers beneath him, a common thief and wrecker with no scruples. Although Edward burns no bridges, he decides to sail in consort with Hornigold.
Alexander Spotswood, the lieutenant governor of Virginia, finds himself once again at odds with the House of Burgesses and other leading citizens of Williamsburg, who disagree with the king’s proclamations, especially those that endanger their livelihoods. Such thoughts not only rub Alexander the wrong way, they also border on being treasonous, for he is a stalwart Loyalist. Nor are they happy with his edicts, which ostensibly are to protect the colony, but always seem to profit him as much as the king and the absentee governor. They are at such loggerheads that they have a representative in London working to have Spotswood recalled.
While these hassles demand much of his attention, Alexander works on another plan – one that involves the treasure wrecks. His advisor cautions against doing so without permission, and once it arrives, Spotswood sends a friend and naval officer on a two-pronged mission: recover what silver and gold he can and then proceed to the Bahamas to determine a truer count of pirate numbers and learn as much as possible about their strengths, weaknesses, and whereabouts. This information will ultimately allow Alexander to devise a plan to eradicate the threat the pirates pose to his colony and trade. During the interim, he explores Virginia and oversees the building of his palace in the capital.
Sent by his owner, Tobias Knight, Caesar accompanies men from Bath County, North Carolina to the wreck site. Soon after he surfaces after one dive, pirates capture their vessel. When the captain discovers that Caesar is an educated slave, he invites Caesar to join the pirates and become a free man. It is an opportunity Caesar welcomes, and he quickly becomes Edward Thache’s trusted steward.
Having taken the path of piracy, Edward understands that he can’t go back to the life he knew. What he doesn’t expect is the lonesomeness that accompanies his new life. To visit his family in Jamaica or Margaret in Pennsylvania risks their lives as well as his own. Even though he is surrounded by his men, whose lives he won’t risk unless he can win, they cannot fill the void he feels until Samuel Bellamy arrives in New Providence. This audacious newcomer pirate had the temerity to steal Jennings’ ship laden with 30,000 pieces of eight after the pirate captain entrusted the vessel into his care. Sam sees himself as a Robin Hood of the sea, which strikes a chord with Edward, and their shared experience in the Royal Navy gives them a bond that allows a friendship to grow. The more time they spend in each other’s company, the more Edward comes to see Sam as a feisty younger brother. But Sam has no qualms about attacking ships of all nations, and this eventually causes a rift within the Flying Gang.
Another newcomer to the pirate republic is Stede Bonnet. Compared with other pirates, he is an odd fellow and his arrival is less than auspicious. Ever since he was a child, Stede dreamed of becoming a successful buccaneer like Sir Henry Morgan and Henry Avery. Death, boredom, a nagging wife, and a deep melancholy eventually lead him to forsake his family and follow his dream. Rather than acquire a ship and crew in normal pirate fashion, he buys the former and hires sailors to go on the account with him. But Stede hasn’t a clue how to sail the ship and his crew shows him little respect. Against their advice, he attacks a more powerful Spanish vessel, which causes the death of many of his men and nearly kills him. With no other options, his men sail to New Providence where the brethren there can deal with Stede.
Most of the Flying Gang pay him little heed, but Edward admires Bonnet’s sloop and has met this gentleman pirate once before, back when he was an honest man. Their similar backgrounds provide a common bond, and Edward offers to repair the sloop and acquire a crew and new captain for her. In exchange, he will give Stede his own cabin aboard his vessel and teach him about navigation and sailing.
In time, news reaches New Providence of Sam Bellamy’s death, King George’s pardon for pirates, and the imminent arrival of Governor Woodes Rogers who has orders to put an end to the pirate republic. Edward senses the tide is changing and the days of pirates are numbered. The more successful he becomes, the more infamous the newspapers paint him. The future looks bleak, but a small beacon of hope offers him way to regain respectability, to marry Margaret, and to settle down to raise a family. While he works toward making his hopes a reality, Spotswood is determined to bring about his demise no matter what.
This historical novel is a riveting portrayal of the legendary Blackbeard, two of the men who sailed with him, and their nemesis Alexander Spotswood. Marquis does a superb job incorporating historical research unveiled in the past two decades with global archival documentation to reconstruct a bygone era in places as they existed during the golden age of piracy. In nearly 400 pages, I came across only one short chapter where Thache’s actions seem out of character, but when you consider that the historical events are equally incongruous, Marquis’ retelling becomes somewhat plausible. The only low mark I give this book concerns the very small font size that was used. It’s a strain on the eyes and makes it easy to lose one’s place.
Marquis does a commendable job sifting through 300 years of myths and legends that surround Thache. The depth of his research and strict adherence to history’s timeline combine to add threads of authenticity to what is in reality a fictional story that allows us to see these men as living, thinking people with hopes and dreams and to understand what motivated them to do as they did. The manner in which Bonnet is depicted makes him less of the anomaly that he is in pirate history. Even though most readers know the outcome of the story as regards Blackbeard, the fight between Lieutenant Maynard and Thache is just as gripping as if we are present to witness the battle. Nor does the story end there. The last chapter where Caesar and Spotswood finally meet is a rousing scene that leaves readers feeling well satisfied and eager to learn more about these characters and piracy in general, not to mention looking forward to reading other stories written by this author.
While I might not see Blackbeard as the patriot that Marquis does, Blackbeard is one of those rare historical novels that transports us back to the past where Thache, Spotswood, Caesar, Bonnet, and all the other pirates and colonists lived in ways that make them truly memorable. Each scene is a you-are-there moment forever frozen in time and each character elicits an emotional response, be it good or bad, with which we can identify. Blackbeard is both thrilling and thought-provoking, and an adventure only a reader with an ardent dislike of historical fiction would want to miss.
Review Copyrighted ©2018 Cindy Vallar
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