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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 ~ Historical Fiction: Pirates & Privateers

The Pirate of Panther Bay               Tortuga Bay               Calusa Spirits

Cover Art: The Pirate of Panther Bay
The Pirate of Panther Bay
by S. R. Staley
Southern Yellow Pine, 2014 (second edition), ISBN 978-1940869179, $11.95
Also available as an e-book for $1.99

After the captain’s murder, Isabella finds herself the new captain of a pirate ship. She has all the qualifications and a good right-hand man in Quartermaster Jean-Michel, but when the vessel they attack blows up, doubt assails her. Combined with her insistence that they take Juan Carlos Lopez de Santa Ana prisoner and the loss of the prospective treasure, Isabella finds herself in a precarious situation. Her men are unhappy, and she is strangely attracted to Santa Ana, a Spaniard – her enemy.

All should go well once they return to Panther Bay, but a group of her men – in league with a villainous pirate captain – stage a mutiny while most of the crew is ashore. Trapped on board her ship, Isabella must figure out how she and Jean-Michel can escape the murderous thugs. Gaining their freedom should end most of their troubles; instead, they just begin. Someone betrays Isabella to the Spaniards, who imprison and flog her to within an inch of her life before she is scheduled to be hanged. Rescue comes from an unlikely source and, once recovered, she tracks down those who betrayed her.

This adventurous tale takes a circuitous journey that remains true to the real world of pirates and Spain’s desire to reign over the New World. The reasons and circumstances for Isabella being captain are plausible, but, at times, her insecurity and obsession with the past are overdone. Some readers may find the demise of the villainous pirate captain somewhat anticlimactic. While Isabella’s attraction to a Spaniard seems strange based on her life experiences so far, it is rewarding to find a Spaniard who isn’t portrayed as the enemy. Santa Ana faces a perplexing dilemma between his loyalty to his king and his love for Isabella. The author’s resolving of this conflict may be less than satisfying to the more romantic reader, but these two characters – so alike, yet so different – have no other choice.

Review Copyright ©2007 Cindy Vallar
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Cover Art: Tortuga Bay
Tortuga Bay
By S. R. Staley
Southern Yellow Pine, 2015, ISBN 978-1-940869-51-3, US $13.95
Also available in e-book formats

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Isabella, the Pirate of Panther Bay, understands violence and has fought for her survival many times in her young life. She grew up a slave and, in her teens, witnessed death and destruction during a failed uprising. She’s also endured torture at the hands of Spain before Juan Carlos, a captain in His Majesty’s army, helped her to escape. He accepts her for herself, but their love is a forbidden one since the Spanish king sent Juan Carlos to capture the infamous pirates who prowl the Caribbean in search of treasure.

On espying a Spanish merchant ship, Jean-Michel sets the pirate ship on a course to intercept her. He doesn’t alert Isabella – even though she is the captain – but she is so attuned to the nuances of her ship that she is roused from her sleep. On joining her quartermaster on deck, she peruses their intended prey. Something niggles. Trusting her feelings, she orders her men to slow the Marée Rouge’s progress. As the distance between the two vessels grows, the Spaniard comes to life. More men scurry on deck and aloft. Many gunports open to show how well armed she is. With all sails set, she turns round until the prey becomes the hunter and the hunter becomes the prey.

The pirates survive the ambush, but wanted notices and a promise of rewards spread across the Caribbean. With the Spanish Viceroy of the West Indies determined to hunt them to extinction, Isabella and her men have few places they can seek safe haven. On their way to Tortuga Bay, they sail to Saint-Domingue, the French side of Hispaniola.

The Spanish viceroy has trouble understanding why Capitán Juan Carlos Lopez de Santa Ana, the king’s most competent soldier, can’t capture a pirate. Every attempt to date has failed, and the viceroy suspects there is a spy in his ranks. Juan Carlos fears the viceroy’s daughter, out of spite for his repeated rejection of her, has told her father what she knows about Isabella’s escape from the bowels of El Morro, the citadel guarding San Juan, Puerto Rico. The viceroy gives Juan Carlos one last chance to crush Isabella and her crew. If he fails, he will either be sent back to Spain in disgrace or he may just simply “disappear” as other men under the viceroy have in the past.

Torn between his love for Isabella and duty to his king, Juan Carlos recommends a daring plan. With a fleet of warships and many men, the Spaniards will blockade the Marée Rouge in Port-au-Prince’s harbor and then marines, led by him, will go ashore and capture her on land . . . with or without the French governor’s permission. As he sets sail he knows the ship brings him closer to an inevitable confrontation that will destroy either him or his love.

All is not as peaceful as it seems in Port-au-Prince. The war for freedom in the American colonies has reignited a desire among the slaves to rid themselves of the shackles binding them to servitude. Their leader is a free gen de couleur, but he is also a manipulator. While he arouses the slaves’ simmering anger, he cannot launch the uprising until he can produce The One, a slave girl who will lead the Africans to victory. Who better to fulfill the old prophecy than the Pirate of Panther Bay? Is this the destiny her mother spoke of when Isabella was a child?

This historical novel – the long-awaited sequel to The Pirate of Panther Bay – takes place in the second half of the 18th century sometime between the Revolutionary War in America and French Revolution and about seventy years after Blackbeard’s demise. The book includes maps of Hispaniola and Port-au-Prince, as well as discussion questions concerning the characters, story, history, and pirates.

Tortuga Bay is a rousing and complex pirate adventure mixed with a Romeo-and-Juliet love affair. Staley breathes life into Haiti and its history through well-rounded, multifaceted characters who tackle difficult situations in realistic ways. I was slightly confused by a few elements, pertaining to voodoo and the prophecy, but my bewilderment may stem from the fact that eight years have passed since I read the first book in this series. Isabella is a unique and compelling character, not only because she’s a woman, but also because she’s an African slave who escaped her bonds to cherish freedom and command a ship of pirates. She endures in spite of hardships and never abandons her comrades or her beliefs.

Listen to Staley's interview at Under the Crossbones

Review Copyright ©2015 Cindy Vallar

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Cover Art: Calusa
Calusa Spirits
By S. R. Staley
Southern Yellow Pine, 2018, ISBN 978-1-59616-078-1, US $17.95
Also available in e-book formats

Healing from his wounds, Juan Carlos Santa Ana desperately tries to stave off Spanish soldiers sneaking aboard La Marée Rouge. He has few weapons at his disposal and the infection in his shoulder and chest threaten to steal what strength he possesses. The enemy comes from the shores of Cuba, for him and for Isabella – one labeled traitor, the other pirate – and from the sounds above and outside the great cabin, there is little hope that anyone will come to his aid. His only chance is to escape his present location, to seek help from whoever is still able to stand on his own two feet.

Bold ingenuity and stalwart determination allow the pirates to succeed, but Isabella knows their respite will be brief. The Captain-General of the West Indies will not give up his relentless pursuit of her or Juan Carlos. Their best chance of escape means sailing straight into the lion’s den. In that way they may just make it to New Orleans.

For her entire life, Isabella has fought for freedom and equality. The last six of those years have been at sea. She escaped the bonds of slavery, which is why she is determined to help others, but how much longer can she survive? It is a question that comes close to being answered when they stop in La Florida, now in the hands of the British, in hopes of replenishing their supplies. Instead of the trading post they expect to find, they are surrounded by at least 350 Calusa warriors from a fierce tribe that’s not supposed to exist any longer. Even though they are an unknown enemy, Isabella, Juan Carlos, and several pirates accompany the warriors deep into the swamp to trade. The Calusa have other plans for them.

Calusa Spirits is the third volume in the historical fiction series, Pirate of Panther Bay. Staley includes two maps, one of West Cuba (c. 1787) and Florida’s West Coast (c. 1781), to orient readers to the two main locales of this book. There is also a short glossary of Calusa words. As in previous titles, this one introduces new characters who join the pirates, such as a man from Japan forced to join the Spanish soldiers. The time period isn’t explicitly stated, but there are enough hints within the text for readers to figure out that it is set in 1781.

Although backstory is expertly woven into the dialogue and narrative, there is a bit too much sprinkled throughout the book, sometimes at places that disrupt both the tension and the flow. In spite of this, readers who have enjoyed the previous titles will enjoy this latest offering in Isabella’s saga; those who have not will easily pick up on what has come before.

An interesting twist in the story comes with the introduction of Pierre and Jean Lafitte. The two young boys (thirteen and two, respectively) are captives, who are with their mother, and it is Pierre’s knowledge of the Calusa that assists Isabella in their escape. The fight scenes, especially the final one with the Calusa, make readers’ hearts pound. I look forward to future adventures of Isabella, Juan Carlos, and the other pirates, including the Lafittes.

Review Copyright ©2019 Cindy Vallar

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