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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 Big Book of Swashbuckling Adventure               Pirates

Cover Art: The
                    Big Book of Swashbuckling Adventure
The Big Book of Swashbuckling Adventure: Classic Tales of Dashing Heroes, Dastardly Villains, and Daring Escapes
Selected and introduced by Lawrence Ellsworth
Pegasus Books, 2014, ISBN 978-1-60598-650-0, US $24.99 / UK Ł14.99
Also available in e-book formats

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In his introduction, Ellsworth identifies what comes to a reader’s mind when someone says “swashbuckler”:
[A] hero who’s a bit of a rogue but has his own code of honor, an adventurer with laughter on his lips and a flashing sword in his hand. (ix)
Ellsworth goes on to explain where such tales came from and how they evolved from fallen gentlemen and nobles to include the likes of buccaneers and pirates. He also shares their rise and decline in books and films, even though they continue to entertain us by whisking us back in time to bygone eras where we can escape the stress and doldrums of our everyday lives. This big book contains fifteen stories and three poems, many of which originally appeared in early magazines or anthologies that are no longer easily available to readers.

Prior to each story, Ellsworth includes a short introduction to the author, his/her writing, and the tale included in the collection. For example, many readers may be familiar with Sabatini’s Captain Blood and Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, but these characters are far from the only ones these authors created during their careers. The only authors lacking such introductions are Lilian Nicholson and Farnham Bishop, which is surprising since Sabatini has two introductions. While some swashbucklers, such as Robin Hood, Zorro, or the Scarlet Pimpernel, are well known to readers, others are strangers or men not often portrayed as such. Two examples of the latter are Cardinal Richelieu and Edward Low. The length of the included pieces varies from one or two pages (the poems) to eighty-four, “Pirates’ Gold.”

The stories and poems that comprise this collection demonstrate that these larger-than-life heroes and their thrilling adventures continue to appeal to readers young and old alike. So on the next dreary, cold day or in the dark of night, curl up with a cup of warm brew and delight in these daring escapades where fearless swashbucklers match wits and swords with treacherous villains, and where twists of fate will surprise and astound.
(Stories of particular interest to pirate readers are marked with a Book-reading pirate next to the title.)

Sword and Mitre by Rafael Sabatini
When the vicomte refuses a generous posting a fair distance from Paris, he finds himself first threatened with betrayal to Cardinal Richelieu for killing his nephew in a duel, and then a prisoner of the Marquis de Castelroc. All because the marquis intends to marry the woman who has captured the vicomte’s heart. The vicomte extricates himself from his cell, but on his way to rescue his fair damsel he happens upon a gentleman waylaid by three knaves. A true cavalier, the vicomte is obliged to assist, but doing so may prevent him from reaching his love before the marquis.

The Sin of the Bishop of Modenstein by Anthony Hope
King Rudolf of Zenda enjoys an evening of dice with Count Nikolas of Festenburg, who wants the castle and estate of Zenda for himself. Over time, he maneuvers the king into a situation in which the honorable monarch must surrender these to the count. When Nikolas moves into the castle, he discovers that Rudolf’s sister, Princess Osra, still resides there, unaware of her brother’s losses. When the count sees her, he must have her as well, even though she wants nothing to do with him, and no one seems willing to come to her rescue.

Recommended for
                                pirate fansPirates’ Gold by H. Bedford-Jones
Captain George Roberts needs a ship to sail to Virginia, but there are no berths available until he makes the acquaintance of Captain Low, who offers him the job of chief mate aboard the King Sagamore. Pursued by the authorities, a reformed pirate turned goldsmith entrusts Roberts with a snuff box and asks him to deliver it to Low. Only after the ship makes sail does Roberts realize that Low is better known as the pirate Bloody Ned. Low assures Roberts that this voyage is a legitimate one to recover buried treasure. The presence of the goldsmith’s daughter seems to back up this assertion. Yet gold can lead even god-fearing men astray and, before long, Roberts wonders who to trust and how to extricate himself with his reputation intact.

The Queen’s Rose by Sidney Levett-Yeats
An aristocrat forced to become a jester-cavalier to the king of France, Pompon becomes embroiled in a plot to discredit Mary of Scotland. If the queen weds the dauphin, the alliance between France and Scotland will be strengthened, which the Spanish ambassador intends to prevent no matter who gets in the way.

Recommended for pirate
                                            fansCheerly O and Cheerly O by Jeffery Farnol
A shanty-like poem about pirates who meet death.

Seńor Zorro Pays a Visit by Johnston McCulley
With drink in hand, sitting before a fire on a stormy night, Sergeant Pedro Gonzales regales the tavern keeper and Don Diego Vega, a man who abhors violence, with tales of what he will do should the cunning masked highwayman named Zorro ever have nerve enough to match swords with him. The sergeant should be careful what he wishes for and remember that a braggart’s tale rarely ends as he predicts.

How the Brigadier Played for a Kingdom by Arthur Conan Doyle
Summoned to Paris to consult with Napoleon, Brigadier Gerard, a French Imperial hussar, happens upon the emperor’s dying emissary and is entrusted with delivering secret papers to a German prince. Not everyone in Germany wants to ally themselves with Napoleon – a fact Gerard soon discovers when he comes to the aid of a Polish princess, only to find that she has stolen the papers. Undeterred and having a good idea what they contain, Gerard continues on to the castle to deliver the message. His attempts to see the prince are thwarted by his wife, who sides with those who wish Germany to remain free.

Robin Hood Meets Guy of Gisborne by Pierce Egan
When the Sheriff of Nottingham is unable to stop Robin Hood and his merrie men from robbing the rich and giving to the poor, Sir Guy of Gisborne devises a plan in which he will separate Robin from his men and slay him, while the sheriff goes after Robin’s men.

Recommended for pirate fansThe Buccaneer’s Last Shot by Farnham Bishop
The buccaneers storm a Spanish fort at the mouth of the Chagres River in 1671 in this poem.

White Plume on the Mountain by Alexander Dumas
With the assistance of Cardinal Richelieu, Louis XIII and his army cross the Alps one winter in support of the Duc de Nevers’s claim to Mantua. If the Comte de Moret’s daring maneuver fails, the Spanish contender to the region will thwart the French king’s endeavors.

The King of Spain’s Will by John Bloundelle-Burton
While Europe wars over who should sit on the throne of Spain, the Grey Musketeers are sent to intercept a scheming cardinal, thought to be carrying the dead king’s will, which names his successor. When a girl called Damaris disappears, Adrian Trent wonders if he and his fellow musketeers are after the wrong courier.

The Cabaret de la Liberté by Baroness Orczy
A gang of cutthroats threaten the daughter of a guillotined aristocrat, who supposedly told her where he hid his fortune. If she refuses to marry one of them, they will denounce her to the Committee of Public Safety, during the Reign of Terror. Her true love is thwarted in his attempts to safeguard her, until the Scarlet Pimpernel intervenes.

The Bride of Jagannath by Harold Lamb
In 1609 India, a young chieftain weds the beautiful daughter of another clan. Soon after she arrives at her new home, the powerful abbot announces that she has been chosen as the annual bride of Jagannath, the god of the poor. The chieftain refuses to give up his wife, and is willing to die to save her from the lecherous abbot. It is up to a Muslim warrior and a Christian Cossack to rescue the young bride.

Recommended for pirate
                                                          fansThe Pirate Sea by Lilian Nicholson
This poem recounts how the sea, like a siren, wreaks her vengeance on the men who venture upon her.

Recommended for pirate
                                                          fansCaptain Blood’s Dilemma by Rafael Sabatini
After Arabella Bishop denounces Peter Blood as a pirate, the buccaneer takes to the bottle, wallowing in self-pity until the Governor of French Hispaniola extends an offer of honorable employment in service to the French king. The Baron de Rivarol, who commands the naval forces, scorns the buccaneers and disregards their valuable advice regarding an attack on Cartagena. When the baron reneges on their contract, Blood vows to reclaim what is rightfully theirs. As they pass near Port Royal, they stumble across a badly wounded English ship and rescue the survivors, one of whom offers Peter a chance to become the honorable man that Arabella might love.

Crillon’s Stake by Stanley J. Weyman
When a desperate newcomer to Paris gambles away his money playing dice, his opponent offers him one last chance to recoup all that he has lost. If the newcomer loses, he must forfeit his life should he fail to murder Crillon, a trusted friend of the king’s. Crillon suspects there is more to this than just a simple game of dice, and vows to uncover the truth of the matter, even if he must die doing so.

The Black Death by Marion Polk Angellotti
Tasked with settling the terms for peace, Sir John of Montecchio visits his home on the way to Florence. His castellan fears for Sir John’s life. There are those who do not want peace, and a mysterious woman climbs to the highest hill and, lighting a torch, seems to signal to someone outside the walls before disappearing from the castle. Since he must proceed on his mission, Sir John departs, but the plague runs rampant along the road he would normally take. His only alternative is a less traveled path, but the markers that should show the way aren’t where they belong.

Recommended for pirate
                                                          fansThe Fight for Black Bartlemy’s Treasure by Jeffery Farnol
Martin Conisby and Lady Joan Brandon are shipwrecked on an island, where they fall in love. All is well until pirates come in search of buried treasure.

Review Copyright ©2015 Cindy Vallar

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Cover Art:
Robert Louis Stevenson, Rafael Sabatini, Emilio Salgari, Jeffrey Farnol, and Robert E. Howard
ROH Press, 2016, e-book ISBN 978-1-987886-20-7, US $2.99 / CAN $4.18 / AUS $4.22

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Part of the Masterworks of Adventure series, this volume brings together seven swashbuckling pirate stories. This anthology opens with brief biographies of the authors and tidbits about each book, as well as other recommended works by these writers.

Jim Hawkins is a young lad, whose parents own the Admiral Benbow Inn in Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island. An old seafaring captain comes to stay with them and warns Jim to beware of a sailor with one leg. One day a pale man with two fingers missing on his left hand comes bearing a special message for the captain: the black spot. As events unfold, Jim discovers the captain is none other than Billy Bones, who served as first mate to the bloodthirsty Captain Flint. Among Bones’s possessions is a map showing the location of Flint’s buried treasure, which Jim acquires. Together with Squire Trelawney and Dr. Livesey, they sail aboard the Hispaniola to seek those riches. To Jim’s chagrin, he discovers some crew members are really pirates, who will do whatever they must to acquire Flint’s treasure.

One dark and foggy night, two pirates come aboard a ship to deliver tragic news to her captain in The Black Corsair by Emilio Salgari. Already responsible for the deaths of two of the Black Corsair’s brothers, the Governor of Maracaibo has hanged a third. The Black Corsair vows to hunt down and slay not only his nemesis, but also all who bear his name. After a daring raid to recover his brother’s body, the Black Corsair and his men come upon a Spanish ship. His second in command, a young man named Henry Morgan (destined to become the greatest of the Buccaneers) leads the boarding party and finds a beautiful woman named Honorata Willerman, who captures the Black Corsair’s heart. She harbors a secret, which may lead to the Black Corsair’s demise as he sets out to exact his revenge on his archenemy.
At the start of Rafael Sabatini’s The Sea-Hawk, Sir Oliver Tressilian is a happy man with much hope for a wonderful future now that Rosamund Godolphin has agreed to be his wife. The one stumbling block is her brother Peter, who refuses to set aside the feud between his family and Oliver’s. No matter how much Peter antagonizes Oliver, he merely turns the other cheek. Not so his younger brother Lionel. While visiting an upscale brothel, Lionel and Peter quarrel; later, Lionel slays him in a duel. On learning of this, Oliver sets about to protect his brother, but overlooks a prime clue – the trail of blood leading to their doorstep – and when the authorities come, it is Oliver who is accused of murder. He has proof that he did not, but as days past Lionel begins to fear that Oliver will divulge the truth. To protect himself, he has Oliver kidnapped and sold into slavery manning the oars of a galleon that is later captured by Barbary pirates. When Rosamund learns that Oliver has fled, she believes him guilty and it is Lionel to whom she turns for solace. When Oliver learns the truth of his betrayal, he seeks his revenge.

Jeffrey Farnol’s Black Bartlemy’s Treasure is the first of two tales about Martin Conisby, a man who falls victim to a family feud. Sold as a galley slave, he has neither liberty nor hope of living. After five years of anguish, he escapes when an English ship attacks the galley. He returns to England with nothing but the clothes on his back and a deep-seated thirst for revenge against the man who destroyed Martin’s father and confiscated the Conisby property. Some humanity remains buried deep within him, for when he happens upon a young lady about to be ravished by three mariners, Martin rescues Lady Joan. Doing so is both a blessing and a curse, for she is the daughter of his enemy, Sir Richard Brandon. Getting his one true desire proves more challenging than Martin expects. (Sir Richard disappeared in the Caribbean two years ago.) Martin has one chance to seek out his enemy, but doing so means stowing aboard a ship – with the knowledge of Captain Adam Penfeather – that plans to recover a buried pirate treasure and rescue Lady Joan’s father. But someone aboard is determined to kill Martin; when that fails, he makes it look as if Martin is a murderer. This man also incites the crew to mutiny. Fearing for both his new friend and Lady Joan, Penfeather sets the two adrift with plans to rendezvous with them at the island where the treasure is hidden once the mutineers are put down. Trouble follows Martin; the directions to the island are lost and a vicious storm shipwrecks them on a deserted beach.

Although three years of solitude have passed when Farnol’s second tale, Martin Conisby’s Vengeance, opens, Martin still dreams of Lady Joan and the life they might have shared. He doesn't mind some company, but not the infamous pirate who lands on the island. Captain Jo is actually a woman who became a pirate to kill her sworn enemy, the governor of Nombre de Dios. Her mercurial nature soon puts Martin at his wit’s ends; one moment she loves him and the next she threatens to kill him. Martin wants no part of her or her plans, but she’s used to getting what and whom she wants, even if she must use trickery and deceit to accomplish the deed. When a wounded Spaniard washes ashore, Martin is the one to care for him. Then, Captain Jo discovers the stranger’s identity and pirates arrive to rescue her. Since Martin continues to spurn her, she makes him her slave before she and her friends set sail for Nombre de Dios. Martin is eager to go; he might finally have the chance to seek retribution against Sir Richard Brandon, who is a prisoner of the Inquisition there. First, Martin must save his new friend from the pirates.

Peter Blood, a peaceable surgeon who takes no part in the rebellion against the English king, is tending his geraniums when he is summoned to tend a wounded rebel. For aiding the enemy, Peter is deemed a traitor and convicted of treason. Rather than face execution, he and other true rebels are transported to Jamaica, where they become slaves on Colonel Bishop’s sugar plantation. Blood’s skill saves him from that work, because he can soothe the governor’s gout. A Spanish raid interrupts his plans for escape; ever resourceful, Blood and his friends turn the tide on this new enemy by rescuing the town and acquiring a fine ship on which they embark on a new life in which Peter becomes a legendary buccaneer in Rafael Sabatini’s Captain Blood. A partnership with another equally infamous pirate turns to deception and death. Peter rescues a damsel in distress – Arabella, Colonel Bishop’s niece and the woman who purchased him at the slave mart. Once she thought she was falling in love with him. Now that Peter’s a pirate, she wants no part of him.

Robert E. Howard’s Black Vulmea’s Vengeance is the last and shortest tale in this collection. Black Terence Vulmea finds himself a prisoner of the English after his men are too drunk to defend their ship against the Royal Navy. Captain John Wentyard prefers to hang him right now, but Vulmea spins a tale of an ancient jewel called the Fangs of Satan that is hidden in an abandoned jungle temple not far from where the English ship is moored. It is Vulmea’s one desperate chance to escape . . . if English greed is as strong as he suspects. Wentyard agrees to delay Vulmea’s hanging until they reach Jamaica if Vulmea leads them to the treasure. But trusting a pirate has dangers of its own and there’s no guarantee that either man will survive the arduous journey.

These seven works are classic tales that feature treasure beyond imagination, epic duels, old-fashioned romance, and heart-stopping adventure. All contain the basic elements of true swashbucklers: dishonor, vengeance, daring escapes, noble causes, dashing heroes, and dastardly villains. A few titles are well-known to readers, but others may only be familiar to die-hard swashbuckling fans. Pirates is not necessarily a volume to be read day after day until the last page (number 1,985) is turned, for these are seven full novels and each deserves to be savored for the rich pirate lore and profound wisdom the authors wove into their tales. The works are presented as they were published, although these have “been meticulously edited to give you the best reading experience possible.” (9) ROH Press has included all the original maps and drawings in this edition.

Unlike many fans of pirate fiction, I did not become interested in pirates after reading Treasure Island as a young girl. In fact, I couldn’t get past the first few pages of the book I received one Christmas. Of course, that was many decades ago and, when I sat down to read and review this book, I discovered I truly enjoyed and liked this tale about Jim Hawkins and Long John Silver. For me, Captain Blood was the book that first drew me into the world of pirates and I was delighted to find it included here.

I first encountered a snippet from Black Bartlemy’s Treasure in Lawrence Ellsworth’s The Big Book of Swashbuckling Adventure, so it is wonderful to finally read the book in its entirety. Two cautionary notes about this tale: The language in the beginning of the story, especially during the period in which Martin meets a variety of characters, many of whom will play more important roles later on, takes some getting used to. Once readers become accustomed to the style, the story becomes easier to follow and more enjoyable. Secondly, Martin Conisby’s single-mindedness may become tiresome at times, but there is far more to this character than first appears and his self-sacrifice is what makes him a multi-dimensional character. In the sequel, Martin’s endurance of Captain Jo is so vibrantly told that the reader experiences his exasperation, his heartache, and his despair so much that we ride the same roller coaster he does.

Nico Lorenzutti does a superb and seamless job translating Salgari’s The Black Corsair from the original Italian. He is the one who first introduced me to this swashbuckling writer, and I’ve enjoyed each tale I’ve read. There is a sequel to The Black Corsair, but unfortunately The Queen of the Caribbean is not included here.

My two favorite tales in this collection are The Sea-Hawk and Black Vulmea’s Vengeance. I first read the former while in college, but didn’t really remember it. This may stem from the film version starring Errol Flynn, which I didn’t care for, and about the only thing the two have in common is the galley slave part. Sabatini’s tale is far richer, more believable, and a better portrayal of the historical aspects of the tale. Having studied and written about the Barbary corsairs and renegadoes, I easily imagined the scenes in Algeria and was captivated by the tale of treacherous betrayal, unusual friendships, and profound love. The depiction of the slave market is vividly portrayed. While the ending seems a bit abrupt, the poignancy of the final scene between brothers will affect even the strongest of readers.

Black Vulmea’s Vengeance is totally new to me and Howard’s writing barely allows you to catch your breath once the journey begins. Enemies make strange bedfellows indeed, but this short tale is one that gets your heart pounding and your eyes looking over your shoulder to make certain you’re alone. Of all the tales it is the one that touches my heart the most.

Pirates is a wonderful collection that resurrects the traditions of a genre we rarely see today. Each journey takes you on a voyage you won’t soon forget.

Review Copyright ©2016 Cindy Vallar

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