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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

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Avery's Treasure
The Butcher's Daughter
Calusa Spirits
Captain Blood
Captain Mary, Buccaneer
Captain Redlegs Greaves
Cassandra, Lost
Cup of Gold
Deep as the Sky, Red as the Sea
Demon Pirate
The Enchantress
The Game
Ivory Dawn
Kings and Pawns
Kingston by Starlight
Long John Silver
The Lord of Vik-Lò
MacHugh and the Faithless Pirate
Ocean Eyes
Open Sea
The Pirates!
Pieces of Eight
The Pirate of Panther Bay
Pirates of the Delaware
Prince of the Atlantic
Sandokan: The King of the Sea
The Sweet Trade
There Were Two Pirates
A True Account
Under the Banner of King Death
Weymouth Bound
The Widow Maker
The Witch from the Sea

Amber Wake
The Ballade of Mary Reede
Barbarians on an Ancient Sea
Belerion Odyssey
The Bermuda Privateer
Big Book of Swashbuckling Adventure
The Black Corsair
The Black Ring
Black Tarantula
Blood for Blood
Bloody Seas
The Braver Thing
The Buccaneer Coast
Captain in Calico
Cinnamon and Gunpowder
Dead Man's Chest
Demon Pirate
Demons & Pearls
The Eagle's Prophecy
Fin Gall
Flint and Silver
The Flower Boat Girl
Fortune's Whelp
Further Exploits of the Pirate Queens
Gather the Shadowmen
Gentlemen and Fortune
Glendalough Fair
New reviewIf the Tide TurnsNew review
Jaded Tides
Judas Island
Legendary Adventures of the Pirate Queens
Master of the Sweet Trade
The Midgard Serpent
Napoleon's Gold
The Only Life That Mattered
Pieces of Eight
The Pirate Captain
  Pirate Hunter
Pirate Latitudes
The Pirate Queen
Pirate Rebel
The Pirate Round
A Pirate's Tale
Pirates: Masterworks of Adventure
The Prodigal
The Pyrate
The Pyrates
The Queen of the Caribbean
Raider's Wake
Remarkable Rascal
Sandokan: The King of the Sea
Sandokan: The Pirates of Malaysia
Sandokan: The Tigers of Mompracem
Sea Robber
Skull and Bones
Tortuga Bay
The Traitor of Treasure Island
Tread Carefully on the Sea
True Colors
The Wrath of Brotherhood

Cover Art: Avery's Treasure
Avery’s Treasure
by Kate Dolan
Zumaya, 2007
ISBN 978-1-934135-66-2 (Paperback), $15.99

New Providence awaits the arrival of the new governor, whose mission is to rid the island of the pirates that infest it. Edward Talbot, captain of the Osprey, wavers between accepting the king’s pardon and continuing to go on the account. Charles Vane has no such dilemma; he is and always will be a pirate.

Ben Bridgeman sees only trouble ahead with the governor’s arrival and insists that his daughter, Arleigh, seek sanctuary at a convent on a French island. While Edward ponders whether to accept Ben’s commission, Arleigh has plans that don’t include living with nuns. Spoiled and greedy, she dreams of locating her father’s treasure and escaping his clutches. Her lack of forethought and planning land her on Charles Vane’s ship. His quartermaster, Calico Jack Rackham, discovers her sex and contrives to obtain the treasure map. When Edward learns Arleigh has fled, he agrees to go after her because Ben is really Henry Avery, a retired pirate who amassed a fortune.

Guilt for pushing Arleigh to run away pushes Rev. Yam to sign on as one of Edward’s crew. Things go awry almost from the start and they end up on an island inhabited only by a buccaneer’s daughter. Dominique wants the intruders gone, but when Arleigh ends up on the island as well, a volatile mixture brews. Dominique loves Yam, but he only has eyes for Arleigh. She wants to be free and secure her father’s treasure. Edward wants the treasure and to return Arleigh to her father. Their paths to success are fraught with the unexpected, including a dangerous encounter with Blackbeard.

Dolan’s research into the Golden Age of Piracy is evident throughout this adventure. Pirates abound, and the imaginary situations that bring those from history together are realistically portrayed. Arleigh’s flight is a bit contrived, and her ready acceptance into Vane’s crew doesn’t quite ring true. The true heroine is Dominique, and the melding of her isolation with the world beyond provides the true adventure and romance of the story. Arleigh slowly matures into a more likeable woman once these two women join together to rescue those they love, and it is only in doing so that Arleigh learns the true meaning of friendship and love. Avery’s Treasure is a tale with serpentine twists and turns where dreams do come true, but not always in the ways we expect.

Review Copyright ©2007 Cindy Vallar

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Cover Art: Captain
Captain Blood
by Rafael Sabatini
Blackstone Audio, 2006
ISBN 978-0-7861-6791-3, $55
Presented by The Colonial Radio Theatre
Playing Time: 7 hours on 6 compact discs

Dr. Peter Blood, a peaceable surgeon who goes to the aid of a wounded rebel, finds himself on trial for treason against the English king. Transported to Bridgetown, Jamaica, Blood becomes one of Colonel Bishop’s slaves, but rather than toil in the field, he ministers to the sick citizens, including the governor. This incursion into the profits of the two doctors already on the island causes them to abet Blood in his attempt to escape the island. A Spanish raid interrupts their plans; ever resourceful, Blood and his mates turn the tide on this new enemy – rescuing the town while capturing a better ship to begin their lives as pirates.

He names their ship after Arabella Bishop, the colonel’s niece. In quick order Blood establishes a reputation among the brotherhood, but a partnership with another equally infamous pirate turns to deception and death. Twice Blood rescues damsels in distress, but the second one, Arabella, spurns his love because he is a pirate. He eventually accepts that fate has dealt him a hand he never expected, nor wanted, but the ouster of the Royal House of Stuart and the war between England and France may just change his mind.

Many years have passed since I first read Captain Blood after seeing Errol Flynn bring Sabatini’s character to life on film. This Colonial Radio Theatre production is true to the original book, so listening to them dramatize the novel is like visiting an old friend. Sound effects make the action real, while the actors bring the characters to life, enhancing this historical romantic adventure that is the epitome of a swashbuckling tale. Fans of Sabatini will want to add this to their collections, and those only familiar with Flynn’s interpretation will want to meet the real Captain Blood. The price is steep, but well worth the investment.

Meet the Colonial Radio Theatre

Review Copyright ©2006 Cindy Vallar

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Cover Art: Captain Mary,
Captain Mary, Buccaneer
By Jacqueline Church Simonds
Beagle Bay Books, 2000, ISBN 0-9679591-7-9

When most people think of pirates, they think of men, but some women -- Anne Bonny and Mary Read, to name two-- dared to thwart convention by turning to piracy. Captain Mary is a fictional composite of these two women, and she is just as ruthless and daring.

The story begins in 1721, when Mary is already a legendary pirate hunted by the navies of several nations. She commands her own ship (the Fury), has created a financial empire, and has established a safe haven for all pirates on Cache Island. Freeing a traitorous doctor from a captured French ship and having an affair with him complicate Mary’s life. She must evade the French who hound her, while keeping her crew from mutinying.

This is a well-researched tale that paints a harsh and dangerous way of life. At no point does the author glorify or romanticize piracy, a refreshing change from most pirate tales. Some readers may find the violence a bit too gruesome. Others may be uncomfortable with Mary’s choice of lovers, who also include a former slave who’s now her pilot and a woman who was a hostage but now runs an upscale brothel. This isn’t a story where the reader will warm up to any of the characters. Captain Mary, Buccaneer is for those seeking adventure on a rolling ship, the thrill of the chase and sea battles between the hunter and the hunted, or to be pirates in search of treasure.

Review Copyright ©2001 Cindy Vallar

(This review was originally published in the May 2001 issue of Historical Novels Review.)

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Cover Art: Captain Redleg
 Captain Redlegs Greaves: A Pirate by Mistake
By Juliet Haines Mofford
Touchstone Press, 2019, ISBN 978-1-946920-67-6, US $16.99
Also available in e-book format

Victors inflict harsh changes on those who lose. Such is the fate for more than 7,000 Scots – men, women, and children – following the Battle of Worcester in 1651, when they are transported to Barbados. Although the law guarantees them light at the end of seven years, a dead Scot is far better than a live one and they are treated so harshly that few of these exiled Royalists – who become known as “redlegs” – ever regain their freedom. This is the tale of one who did.

The concept of liberty is foreign to fourteen-year-old Daniel Greaves, who has only known servitude, but freedom is a dream that his father refuses to surrender. This is why the pair are on the run when the story opens in 1663. The hope is to get aboard a ship that will take them to Scotland. But plantation owners are notorious for not surrendering property, especially the cruel and heartless Reginald Pickett. When caught, Daniel suffers ten lashes. His father’s punishment is far worse, for this is his third escape attempt, which means he is branded a fugitive traitor in addition to being flogged. Infection sets in, which combined with the loss of hope, leads to death. Before his father succumbs, Daniel promises to one day gain his freedom. He keeps a low profile, while watching and waiting for that day to come.

Fortune shines on Daniel when Pickett sells him to a new owner. William Chandler, a kind man in need of an apprentice for his shipping business. Daniel is treated more like an adopted son than a slave, and he becomes adept in his new trade. As he comes of age, he falls in love with Clarissa, Chandler’s daughter. He also befriends a cabin boy from a mysterious ship that sometimes visits the island. Daniel teaches him to read in exchange for learning to tie knots. When a tragic loss leads to debts which leads to more tragedy, Daniel learns he is to be sold back to Pickett – a situation he cannot and will not tolerate. Left with no other choice, he bids a poignant farewell to Clarissa, who promises to wait for him, and flees the island. The ship on which he stows away isn’t a merchant ship. Nor is she bound for Scotland. It is the cabin boy’s vessel and when the mean-spirited captain, who is often drunk, discovers him, Daniel will either be thrown overboard or join the pirates.

This biographical novel tells the story of Captain Redlegs Greaves, a gentleman pirate who is an ancestor of the author’s husband. Greaves has a moral compass that influences his choices as a pirate and, eventually, leads him to retire a rich man, who takes the king’s pardon. Before then, he finds himself embroiled in a mutiny, commanding a pirate ship, facing the hangman’s noose, experiencing the sea quake that decimated the first settlement on Nevis in 1680, and serving aboard a New England whaler.

The author achieves her goal of depicting a pirate tale based on fact rather than romance. The epilogue reads more like an author’s note, letting readers know what happens to Greaves after he reunites with Clarissa, but fails to identify what elements of Daniel’s story are fact and what are fiction. The reader isn’t always fully engaged in the story because information dumps occasionally interrupt its flow and the dialect in dialogue is sometimes difficult to decipher. No explanation is given as to how Greaves manages to meld back into society while retaining his real name throughout his life. Clarissa also seems to get over her horror of his piracy too easily.

In spite of these shortcomings, Mofford’s depiction of what Greaves endures and how he overcomes the hurdles he encounters is commendable. She pulls no punches, yet entwines a thread of hope compelling readers to keep turning pages. The potency of this tale that makes it intriguing is her use of a pirate protagonist often overlooked in histories of Caribbean piracy. This book may be fiction, but it is based on facts that have rarely been shared with others, which is why it is worth reading.

Meet the author

Review Copyright ©2001 Cindy Vallar

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Cover Art:
                                    Cassandra, Lost
Cassandra, LOST
By Joanna Catherine Scott
St. Martin’s Press, 2004, ISBN 0-312-31942-7, $24.95

Just before her eighteenth birthday in 1793, Cassandra Owings of Maryland elopes with a Frenchman of whom her father disapproves. Benedict van Pradelles takes his new bride to France to help his parents flee Paris. When Cassandra and Benedict arrive, his mother is too ill to travel and Benedict must reclaim their wealth and property in the country. After escaping the revolutionists who imprisoned him, a wounded Benedict returns to Cassandra, who must now nurse him and his mother while she herself is pregnant. Confined to the two rooms where they live, she feels like a prisoner within the walls of the townhouse, for the streets are unsafe and the servants seem ready to harm them if given any excuse.

During this time, Cassandra meets and befriends Jean La Fitte, a young lad who helps his father and Benedict in their secret affairs. Eventually, she joins Jean in his work, which allows her to escape from her prison and experience adventure. Jean’s father’s arrest and the deaths of Benedict’s parents force them all to realize they must leave France or face the guillotine. When Jean decides to search for his brother, Pierre, rather than accompany Cassandra and Benedict to America, she gives him a locket with her picture in it and they promise that someday they will meet again.

This well-researched novel about Cassandra and her life in Paris and New Orleans is based on fact. Not much is known of her real life, for she had no contact with her family after she eloped just before the boat she boarded disappeared soon after it sailed in 1815. Whether she had an affair with Jean Laffite can’t be proven with any certainty, although he apparently knew her. Laffite was a master at illusion and misinformation, and the author does a commendable job showing this penchant for secrecy. She portrays him as a complex character, charismatic yet iron willed, traits necessary to his trade as privateer and smuggler. She deftly weaves the facts and legends about Laffite, providing plausible explanations for the stories we know of him.

If Jean Laffite were not a character in this book, would I have read it? Probably not, for I had several major problems with the story. First, much is told rather than shown to the reader. This technique keeps the reader at arm’s length from the action rather than allowing the reader to “participate” in the story. Perhaps a greater flaw is that Cassandra is not a likeable heroine. She’s childish and self-centered, and has a skewed definition of love. She never becomes more than a one-dimensional character, whereas Benedict and Laffite do. Even William Claiborne, the governor of Louisiana, is better drawn, although the reader may think the familial relationship between Claiborne and Cassandra contrived, and the author doesn’t confirm in her author’s note whether they were cousins or not.

There are several factual errors in the story, although they are minor ones. Bluebeard is twice portrayed as a real pirate when he’s actually a fictional one. The reader is left to wonder why the author didn’t just use Blackbeard as the pirate in question, as he really lived and residents of Maryland would have known of him, for he was a legend in his own time. The author’s claim that polite society didn’t accept Laffite is half right – Americans didn’t, but Creoles did. Also, she doesn’t have him deny that he’s a pirate when Cassandra asks this of him. In fact, Laffite’s contemporaries say he vehemently denied ever being a pirate. Lastly, the author spells his name as “Lafitte,” whereas he always signed his name “Laffite,” as evidenced in several extant documents.

Review Copyright ©2004 Cindy Vallar

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Cover Art:
                                    Cup of Gold
 Cup of Gold: A Life of Sir Henry Morgan, Buccaneer, with Occasional Reference to History
By John Steinbeck
Penguin Books, 2008, 978-0-14-303945-7, $14.00

Henry Morgan, a young Welsh lad, craves adventure. He doesn’t want to be a farmer like his father, Old Robert. One night a former helper, Dafydd, visits. His tales of life at sea in the Caribbean spur Henry to follow his dream. Before he slips away, he climbs the mountain to get Merlin’s counsel. The old man, who resembles a Druidic priest, tells him, “You will come to your greatness, and it may be in time you will be alone in your greatness and no friend anywhere; only those who hold you in respect or fear or awe.” (23) Henry considers visiting Elizabeth, but he is of an age where she is “a thing of mystery” and fear prevents him from saying goodbye to her. (25)

In Cardiff Henry befriends Tim, a seaman who promises to arrange passage for Henry aboard the Bristol Girl, for the price of a meal and four pounds. Henry is born to walk the decks of a ship and to feel the ocean spray on his face. It matters not that he must work in the galley with the cook, for when he’s not busy, he learns from the other seamen. Not until they reach Barbados does Henry learn he must serve as an indentured servant to James Flower, “not a hard man, and he was certainly not a very brilliant man.” (62) During this time, Henry learns the skills and self-reliance he needs for the future – the day he will finally become the great man of whom Merlin spoke.

Eventually, Henry makes his way to Jamaica and becomes a buccaneer. Rumors spread through the Caribbean of La Santa Roja, a Spanish woman of fabulous beauty. When the desire to possess her overcomes Henry, he raids Panama (the Cup of Gold), the taking of which makes him legendary. But is La Santa Roja what he really wants? And what of his life once he finally possesses the dream?

Most American readers are introduced to John Steinbeck in English class when they read The Red Pony and Of Mice and Men. But how many English teachers mention that his first novel was about a pirate? Cup of Gold isn’t his best work, and a contemporary reviewer called it “a rather weird” book. When published in 1929, some thought the novel was a biography. Steinbeck did incorporate some history into the story, but opted to use a single source, the English edition of Buccaneers of America, which contained “questionable (and damning) statements about Morgan himself.” (Morgan sued the publishers for libel in 1684 and won.)

This isn’t your typical, modern-day story of pirates. Rather than a strict historical novel, Steinbeck opts to pen an historical fantasy, but fanciful may be a more appropriate description. It’s very readable, but anyone expecting the style of his later works will be disappointed – that was yet to be developed when he wrote Cup of Gold. Eloquence and prose intrudes into the flow of the story, yet anyone who has read stories written in the past should enjoy this pirate tale. Those who are fans of Morgan may not find the portrayal flattering, but Steinbeck chooses not to place the legendary buccaneer on a pedestal. His character comes across as a special, yet ordinary, man with very human tendencies.

Review Copyright ©2009 Cindy Vallar

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Cover Art: Deep as the
                                                          Sky, Red as
                                                          the Sea
Deep as the Sky, Red as the Sea
by Rita Chang-Eppig
Bloomsbury, 2023, ISBN 978-1-63973-037-7, US $28.99 / CAN $38.99
Also available in other formats

The death of her husband surprises Shek Yeung. Not because he dies; that possibility is expected when one is a pirate. What catches her off guard is that she loved him. After all, he’s the one who stole her from her life as a prostitute to live and prey upon the sea. His death complicates her life. She commands half the Red Banner Fleet, but everything now belongs to her husband’s “adopted” son and lover, Cheung Po. Her husband’s death also puts the pirate alliance on wary footing. If she wishes to maintain control and her freedom, there is only one option: she and Cheung Po must marry.

Despite their age differences and outlooks on life, Shek Yeung and Cheung Po do wed. Theirs is a fragile alliance, but one that is on surer footing than the confederation of pirate fleets. Kwok Po-Tai of the Black Banner is the biggest threat and Cheung Po doesn’t trust him since the man dislikes sharing sea space with the Red Banner. Kwok Po-Tai is also jealous. Once her late husband’s protégé, he found himself displaced by Cheung Po. Choy Hin of the Blue Banner has close ties with Cheung Po but is also addicted to opium. He’s too easily swayed by his wife, who believes everything her English contacts share, especially if they pertain to her most hated enemy, the Dutch. The only way they will continue to rule the seas is if the Red, Black, Blue, Green, and White Banners stay united. If not, the imperial forces will win.

In addition to her concern about the alliance, Shek Yeung believes there is at least one spy among them. Then news comes that the Chinese emperor has chosen a new leader to wipe out the pirates. Pak Ling, known as the Emperor’s Sword, successfully suppressed the rebels in the north. He is smart, crafty, and determined – a formidable enemy who uses many strategies to defeat his foes. The failure of the White Banner to meet up with the Blue is also worrisome. As is intelligence learned from a Dutch captive about a pact between European enemies and the Chinese emperor.

Although loosely based on Zheng Yi Sao, this novel is not historical biographical fiction. Instead, it shadows what is known of the real pirate while offering unique and provocative circumstances to make Shek Yeung a compelling character shaped by life experiences. It is also a story of survival and knowing when to hold and when to fold. The author successfully entwines history, myth, and fiction into an intricately woven tapestry that vividly recreates time and place.

Review Copyright ©2023 Cindy Vallar

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Cover Art: The Widow
                                                          Art: The
                                                          EnchantressCover Art: The Game
The Widow Maker
By C.C. Colee
America House, 2001, ISBN 1-58851-378-5, US $25.95

The Enchantress
By C.C. Colee
America House, 2000, ISBN 1-59129-065-1, US $34.95

The Game

By C.C. Colee
Publish America, 2003, ISBN 1-59286-135-0, US $24.95

After her parents’ deaths, Audrey Malone lives with her uncle. He’s determined to make a good, and profitable, match for her regardless of her thoughts on the matter. His final choice leaves Audrey with little choice -- submit to a brutal and unhappy marriage, or run away. She opts for the latter and ends up aboard a ship bound for Africa and “rescued” by pirates. This is the premise of The Widow Maker, the first book in the RB trilogy. Audrey becomes the property of Captain Rene Black, but she falls in love with his quartermaster, who protects her from Black and other pirates up to no good.

Book two, The Enchantress, finds Audrey aboard another pirate ship, captained by a woman, after the Royal Navy destroys Black’s ship. Captain Mala and Audrey think Black is dead, but he resurfaces and takes over Mala’s ship, which causes more problems for Audrey. He brings with him a particularly nasty pirate intent on raping Audrey. In the meantime, Mala’s quartermaster attempts to convince Mala that only he truly loves her. All this turmoil inevitably leads to many showdowns, sometimes with tragic results. The final book, The Game, involves Black’s attempts to locate Mala before his arch nemesis, Captain Alexander of the Royal Navy, carries out his threats against Mala.

Unlike many series, this trilogy requires readers to begin with book one and continue to the end. The individual titles do not stand alone. Nor is this typical romance, for there is far too much domestic brutality and darkness, even though love is an underlying theme throughout the books. Readers looking for pirate adventure will find this trilogy fits the bill. While it provides a more accurate depiction of pirates and life at sea than many novels, there are still some historical inaccuracies. The Widow Maker is the most absorbing of the three books, and ensnares the reader into finding out what happens to Audrey and the other characters, which are all well drawn and easy to envision. Audrey matures from timid lady to daring pirate by the end of the series.

Unfortunately, there are several drawbacks of which readers should be aware. The Widow Maker and The Enchantress are poorly edited. This isn’t a major problem in the first book, but the second is too long and includes too much repetition of incidents, which may annoy the reader. While The Game is better edited, the suspense and tension in rescuing Mala never succeeds and is over far too soon. This leaves at least a third of the book devoted to tying up loose ends. It is also the least accurate historically, which may leave the reader feeling cheated or disappointed after reading all three books. In light of these problems, readers may find the high prices of these books a deterrent.

Review Copyright ©2004 Cindy Vallar

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Cover Art:
                                      Kingston by Starlight
Kingston by Starlight
by Christopher John Farley
Three Rivers Press, 2005, ISBN 1-4000-8245-5, US $13.95 / CAN $21

Since her first appearance in A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pirates by Captain Charles Johnson in 1724, Anne Bonny has intrigued people interested in Caribbean piracy. Not only was she a female pirate, but she also disappeared from a Jamaican jail, never to be heard from again. In Kingston by Starlight, Anne tells her own story from her childhood in Ireland to her pirating days with Calico Jack Rackham and Mary Read to their capture and her life after prison.

One startling difference between this novel and others is the lyrical language and literary tone of the book. Most recent novels portray pirate life with more realism and grittiness. While essential elements of Anne’s story lay the foundation for this novel, the author interprets her life story differently from what readers may remember. For example, Bonny is not Anne’s last name originally. She is Anne Cormac until she married James Bonny, but he never appears in this story. Some readers may object to the sexual elements; others may find themselves kept at arm’s length from Anne rather than being at her side as events unfold. Readers who favor literary books and the lilt of poetry should enjoy Kingston by Starlight.

Review Copyright ©2005 Cindy Vallar

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Cover Art: Long
                                                          John Silver
Long John Silver
by Bjorn Larsson
Harvill Press, 2001, ISBN 978-186046539

reviewed by Irwin Bryan

When you hear “Long John Silver,” in your mind’s eye you picture a one-legged pirate. Larsson’s tale (Silver’s “autobiography”) begins with the story of how he lost that leg and the events surrounding it.  Silver is painted as a feared and fearless person. Perhaps his most ruthless act ends this part of the story.

After this preface, the story begins anew during Silver’s childhood in Bristol. We meet a young lad who gets a good education, complete with learning Latin. A confrontation with the only person he ever fears, his parson, sends him running to the docks and the start of his seafaring life. He is determined to learn his new trade well and is devoted to his ship. The inner workings of his superior mind are laid bare to readers, who already know he ends up as a pirate, but have no idea how or when he makes that transition.

First, a few other adventures in Silver’s life show him capable of loyalty and even compassion and love. These do seem a bit drawn out and only the future references to Treasure Island and Captain Flint give the reader motivation to continue.

By the time Long John’s story takes him to his piratical days with Flint and then Jim Hawkins, Silver the “author” is aged to the point where he’s not sure he’ll be able to finish his tale and things get jumbled up and interlaced with the story of events that come later. Finally, with his story complete, he talks of his final days and his life of enforced ease.

All in all, Larsson’s novel seems plausible, but it bogs down a few times and isn’t as entertaining as Edward Chupack’s autobiography of Silver, which is much more action-packed and deals more with Silver the pirate.

Review Copyright ©2012 Irwin Bryan

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Cover Art: MacHugh
                                              and the Faithless Pirate
MacHugh and the Faithless Pirate
By William S. Schaill
Fireship Press, 2015, ISBN 978-1-61179-357-4, US $18.00
e-book ISBN 978-1-61179-358-1, US $6.99

In the midst of a wintry blizzard in 1694, Robert MacHugh breaks into the warehouse of the richest man in New York Towne. Doing so is not what the respected wine merchant and fourth son of a Scottish baron should be doing, but he seeks proof that Frederick Phillipsie is in league with William Archer, a cruel pirate who’s been plundering Robert’s cargoes.

Although his suspicions are confirmed, there is nothing Robert can do until a captain of the Marines delivers a letter from Lord John Churchill. The missive outlines attacks Archer has made on property of the Grand Moghul of India. The pirate also raped the moghul’s daughters, which has caused diplomatic problems for the king and queen and the East India Company (EIC). In retaliation for Archer’s vicious plundering, the moghul has taken EIC officials hostage and issued an ultimatum. England has nine months to deliver proof of Archer’s death to the moghul, or the hostages will be killed. One captive is Robert’s youngest brother.

There are several caveats to hunting down Archer. Robert must not interfere with Archer’s financial backers in any way since these men, like Phillipsie, wield great influence and power that the monarchs need. Also, the captain of the Marines and a reformed pirate who once sailed with Archer are to accompany Robert on this trek.

With a cargo meant to lure the pirate from his lair, Robert and his companions set sail for the Caribbean. Finding Archer takes time, for no one is certain where he is and the West Indies has many ideal places where he can shelter. Complicating the hunt are foul weather, French corsairs, a lovely woman whose father is in cahoots with the pirates, murder, uncooperative officials, and a Royal Navy commander who bristles at being under Robert’s orders. Nor are the two warships sent to aid in the search the "powerful cruisers" Churchill promised. When one disappears, Robert is no longer certain he can succeed in his mission and save his brother’s life.

While the opening scene of this story contains spine-tingling action that makes the reader’s breath catch, the purpose for its inclusion is vague since Phillipsie never appears in this story and his interactions with the pirates are never depicted. There are occasions where it’s difficult to keep track of who’s who and there’s a tendency to refer to characters in ways that distance the reader from the story. Better proofreading, less awkward phrasing of some sentences and, since time is of the essence, inserting more tension in some scenes would benefit the story. In spite of these flaws, MacHugh and the Faithless Pirate incorporates gripping action scenes that whisk the reader into the midst of fierce storms, pirate chases, and perilous battles.

Meet the author

Review Copyright ©2015 Cindy Vallar

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Cover Art: Ocean Eyes
Ocean Eyes
By Amy Hoff
Writers Club Press, 2001, ISBN 0-595-18723-4, US $16.95

Sir Joseph Bruce is a Scot in the English army during the struggle between the Royalists and the Puritans. His closest friend is an Englishman named Anders, a man noted for his dalliances with women. Joseph prefers to write poetry until, one night in a tavern, he meets an exotic dancer who turns out to be the notorious and legendary Captain Angel d’Auteville, a bloodthirsty pirate unlucky in love. When his countrymen intend on betraying Charles I, Joseph and Angel form an alliance to safeguard the king. Joseph almost dies while Angel and her men leave empty-handed.

Thinking Joseph dead, Angel returns to her wicked life after a brief respite with friends in Ireland. A disillusioned Joseph turns his back on his military career, befriends a historian rumored to be a vampire, and returns home. After some of Angel’s men betray her to the Spanish Inquisition, those who remain loyal set out to find Joseph, for they require his assistance to affect her rescue.

Ocean Eyes is a compelling novel that doesn’t embellish or romanticize piracy. The characters and their foibles draw the reader into the story. Joseph has trouble coming to terms with both his royal heritage (his ancestor is Robert the Bruce) and loving a woman who walks on the wrong side of the law, but time and again events force him to overcome these uncertainties. Past lovers have jaded Angel where men are concerned, and her anger is a driving force behind the viciousness that makes her legendary. It is Joseph’s memory that sustains Angel during her torturous imprisonment. A multitude of secondary characters spices this story that circumnavigates the globe. Beware, the ending is fitting but will haunt the reader long after the final page is turned.

Review Copyright ©2005 Cindy Vallar

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Cover Art: The
The Pirates! In an Adventure with Napoleon
by Gideon Defoe
Pantheon Books, 2008, ISBN 978-0-375-42398-7, US $16.95
E-book ISBN 978-0-307-37826-2, US $16.95

A shoe-in for the Pirate of the Year Award, at least in his opinion, the Pirate Captain is desolated when he loses to a younger upstart who hands out calling cards. There’s nothing left but for the Captain and his crew to become beekeepers, and the perfect place for this is the island of St. Helena, according to Black Bellamy, who likes to put one over on his fellow buccaneers – and this time is no exception.

Much to the chagrin of Jennifer and her fellow mates, they are unable to dissuade their Captain from leaving a life of plundering. But St. Helena isn’t exactly the picture-perfect island Bellamy promised. Undeterred, the Captain becomes a beekeeper and hosts parties everyone attends because he’s the biggest celebrity their little island has seen in quite some time. At least he is until an officer in the Royal Navy knocks on the Captain’s door and presents the newest resident, Napoleon Bonaparte.

The little island can’t support two enormous egos, and it isn’t long before the Captain and Napoleon try to outdo each other. While those two battle it out, the other pirates are desperate to find a way to return to their old way of life. Convincing the Captain of that, while he’s trying to run against Napoleon to be head of the St. Helena Residents’ Association, may prove a tougher challenge than anyone thinks.

It’s rare for me not to know what to write about a book, but this one definitely falls outside the norm. It’s part tongue-in-cheek, part whimsical, and part silly, and each chapter outdoes the one before. In spite of this, the story works and matters do get resolved. Don’t expect the blurb on the back of the book to prove helpful. It has nothing to do with this particular story. The third in The Pirates! series, this book is for adults who want a fast-paced, humorous read that reminds them of being a kid.

Review Copyright ©2009 Cindy Vallar

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Cover Art: Pieces of
Pieces of Eight
By Joshua Blair Delaney
Infinity, 2011, ISBN 978-0-7414-6479-8, US $24.95

In 1715 Eastham, Calvinism retains a powerful hold over the residents. They fear the unknown and those who stray from the strict standards governing the village. This trepidation comes to a boil when three people – a stranger washed ashore after a storm, a girl who dreams of the future, and a Nauset who holds to the traditions and beliefs of his people – cross paths on colonial Cape Cod.
Rather than submit to further abuse from the captain of a merchant ship, Samuel Bellamy jumps overboard. He washes ashore, where he is taken care of by John Julian, one of the native people of the island. Eventually, he seeks employment in Eastham, but few will employ him, and he lacks sufficient funds to marry Maria Hallett, a local girl with a kindred spirit. When he crosses paths with Palsgrave Williams and learns of a fleet of Spanish treasure ships wrecked off the Florida coast, he joins Palsgrave’s expedition to salvage some of the gold. Others have similar notions and, before long, Sam and Palsgrave decide if they wish to gain a fortune, they must turn pirate.
Maria Hallett mistakenly tells others that she dreamt of her father’s death before news of it reaches Eastham. Ever since, whispers of witchcraft have circulated in spite of her weekly attendance at Sunday service. One reason for this is that Maria has a wandering soul, one that longs to visit far off places – a dream no Puritans in the village understand, including her mother and stepfather. When she seeks out an elderly widow who lives alone and has knowledge of plants that can heal people, Maria again falls under suspicion of witchcraft. Such ungodliness is further supported when it becomes known that she has slept with Bellamy.
John Julian spends a lot of time locked in the pillory because of his refusal to follow the Puritans’ faith. With his parents dead and his own people viewing him as someone to be shunned, John spends much of his time alone. He works for a local smuggler, who eventually agrees to sell him land, where he hopes to bring other tribal members to live and practice the ways of their ancestors. The elders of Eastham refuse to honor his ownership of the land, which renders John’s deed invalid and leaves him without purpose to his life.
My reservations about this the book stem from the manner in which the author chooses to tell the story. After reading the prologue, where the three primary characters are introduced in separate scenes, I expected the author to interweave their stories. Instead, each is told separately: The Tale of Goody Hallett, The Tale of John Julian, and The Tale of Sam Bellamy. This style of storytelling can prevent a reader from becoming fully involved in the book, which is what happened for me, especially at the critical phase in each character's life. The occasional insertion of minor characters’ viewpoints provides a more rounded glimpse into this time and place, but also draws out the story, which weakens the power of the final two parts of the book where Maria, Sam, and Julian’s stories intersect.
In spite of this personal proviso, Pieces of Eight is a unique recasting of the popular Cape Cod legend. Delaney’s intricate tale melds fact with fiction to recreate colonial times. He deftly demonstrates how religion, fear, and prejudice come together in constructive and destructive ways with profound, and sometimes tragic, outcomes. I enjoyed this recounting of Sam and Maria’s story, and appreciated the introduction of John Julian as more than a side note in history books.

Review Copyright ©2011 Cindy Vallar

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Cover Art: Pirates
                                                          of the
Pirates of the Delaware
By Rupert Sargent Holland
Schiffer, 2006, ISBN 0-7643-2487-X, US $14.95

A bored student. A beautiful émigré. A mysterious Englishman. A sinister stranger. These four people come together on a lovely spring day, setting in motion an adventure of highwaymen, smuggling, piracy, and revolution. Jared Lee studies law under Nathaniel Carroll, a respected lawyer who tends to talk about situations rather than becoming involved in them. Fleeing France, Jeanne de Severac and her father, a marquis, arrive in Philadelphia with few possessions. With Mr. Carroll and Jared’s assistance, she sells a necklace to provide her father with necessary funds. When the Severacs move to a questionable country estate, Jared seeks out his friend, Hal Norroy, an Englishman with secrets, for advice because he’s more worldly than a farmer’s son.

Jared’s first hint at possible danger comes when a rough-looking Frenchman attempts to accost Jeanne on her arrival at Mr. Carroll’s office. A highwayman holds up Jared after he leaves a party. When the Severacs’ servant arrives to deliver a message to Jared, they discover Jeanne’s note has disappeared from the man’s pocket. Jared makes arrangements to meet with Jeanne secretly, but is kidnapped by pirates on the way to meet her. While imprisoned at a farmhouse, his friend, Luke Hatch, arrives and, using his boxing prowess, disables the man holding Jared. Together they escape, only to discover the coach carrying Jeanne and her father to a new residence in Philadelphia has disappeared. Intent on rescuing them, the two men soon find themselves aboard a pirate ship, where the captain’s identity stuns them. If that isn’t enough trouble to have to get out of, some pirates are planning to stage a mutiny!

Originally written in 1925, this mysterious adventure takes place in 1793. While the thrills and suspense aren’t the edge-of-your-seat type and the pirates don’t appear until near the end of the tale, this book has many serpentine twists that require the reader to pay attention to detail. Holland manages to weave his tale with history without throwing it in the reader’s face. Pirates of the Delaware begins slowly, just as any warm, spring day invites us to toss aside our work and enjoy the outdoors, but the first hint of danger soon spurs us to join Jared in piecing together the puzzle even if danger lurks around the corner.

Review Copyright ©2009 Cindy Vallar

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Cover Art: The
                                                          Sweet Trade
The Sweet Trade
By Debrah Strait
Smashwords, 2013, e-book ISBN 9781301798490, US $6.95
Createspace, 2013, print ISBN 978-1492816409, US $14.95

One morning in 1653, Dirk van Cortlandt’s life turns upside down when Spaniards invade the Dutch Isle of Bentyn. At eleven years old, he dreams of adventure and he and his four friends – Mic (12), Baldric (9), and twins Jan and Joost – are away playing pirates, but race home to warn their parents. By the time they arrive, it’s too late. Their mothers, fathers, and siblings lie dead or are slaughtered while the boys watch. They themselves barely escape with their lives aboard a boat that washed up on the island earlier.

Guilt plagues Dirk. His youngest sister had caught him sneaking out of the house and wanted to go with him, but he said no. Now, little Anneke is dead, and her murder haunts his thoughts and dreams.

Although the boys intend to go to Curaçao, they become lost at sea. Eventually, they are rescued by French pirates, who offer them a safe haven, but actually have something else in store for the boys. The life they imagined as pirates is far different in reality. Their “saviors” haven’t captured any prizes of significance, so they sail to Tortuga and sell the boys into bond slavery. Before they separate, the boys vow to reunite in seven years at the end of their indenture.

Alone for the first time in his life, Dirk serves a buccaneer, an abusive man who hunts beef and smokes the meat to sell to traders and pirates. It is a hard life, but Dirk learns the trade. But even here the Spanish hunt and slaughter the buccaneers, some of whom befriend Dirk. He endures his master’s beatings until he grows taller and stronger. Seeking revenge comes with consequences; rather than the death he expects, he is sold once again – this time to four men who teach him new skills.

By the time the seven years have passed, Dirk has acquired all but one skill needed to become a pirate: leading men. Aside from reuniting with his friends, one driving force rules his life. He vows vengeance on all Spaniards. The pirate crew they join knows only one way to attack and, eventually, their victims learn to thwart their tactics. After Dirk rescues the pirates from one failed escapade, they elect him as their captain. Being their leader comes with its own baggage. As time passes, he and his friends cross paths with the most sadistic of the pirates, François L’Olonnais, and the most successful, Henry Morgan.

This novel spans seventeen years from the Caribbean to New Amsterdam. There are two interludes of romance, one with a distant relative of Dirk’s and the other with the last person he ever expects to fall for. I enjoyed this book, although I felt several times the pace slows too much. While the majority of the story unfolds from Dirk’s point of view, a few times a scene unfolds from a minor character’s perspective. I found this technique jarring and oftentimes thought the important information that’s revealed could have been done without shifting the point of view. Introducing a second major character in the last chapter also bothered me, and their attraction for each other doesn’t ring as believable for me as it should. But these are personal preferences and not all readers will agree with me.

Strait’s depiction of life as a boucanier is spot-on, and she never sugarcoats the danger and hard life they and the pirates endured as they prowled the seas and raided Spanish settlements. She does a wonderful job with her portrayal of L’Olonnais and his final days, as well as with her depiction of the explosion aboard Morgan’s Oxford.

Review Copyright ©20
14 Cindy Vallar

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Cover Art: There Were Two Pirates
There Were Two Pirates
By James Branch Cabell
Wildside Press, 2003, ISBN 1592240836, US $15

Each year Florida celebrates José Gasparilla, King of the Pirates, who established his kingdom on Gasparilla Island toward the end of the 18th century. Legend says he was a Spanish naval officer who turned to piracy. He was reputed to have captured and sunk thirty-six ships in eleven years, amassed a fortune in treasure, murdered seamen who refused to join his ranks, and imprisoned the women passengers (including a Spanish princess, who was eventually murdered). Rather than face capture by an American warship, he wrapped the anchor chain around himself and jumped into the sea. Whether José Gasparilla ever lived or not is a mystery. In 1946, James Cabell published this fantasy adventure purportedly based on Gasparilla’s diaries.

Love for a woman and a lack of wealth convince Gasparilla to become a pirate with the solitary goal of amassing sufficient funds to wed Isabel and retire to a cozy villa to raise many children. As he nears his goal, he faces the problem of how to return to society now that he’s a wanted man. Then he captures the Santa Clara. Aboard is an elderly gentleman who suffers from rheumatism: Don Diego, Isabel’s husband. Don Diego offers Gasparilla a way to achieve his dreams and, after careful negotiations, the deal is sealed. Gasparilla will become an honorable citizen and marry Isabel, but how?

The subtitle of this book is “A Comedy of Division,” yet there is little humor in the story. Gasparilla is egotistical to a fault, yet naively unaware of how he affects others’ lives, especially those women who have the misfortune to cross his path. There is little action in this tale; instead, Gasparilla recounts his motivations and experiences. Fans of Gasparilla and fantasy will enjoy this tale, but for pirate aficionados seeking a rousing adventure, I recommend looking elsewhere.

Review Copyright ©2004 Cindy Vallar

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Cover Art: A True
A True Account
Hannah Masury’s Sojourn Amongst the Pyrates, Written by Herself
by Katherine Howe
Henry Holt and Company, 2023, ISBN 978-1-250-30488-9, US $28.99 / CAN $38.99

A hanging is a momentous affair. Especially when the execution is of a pirate. William Fly, no less, a totally unrepentant sinner. Everyone will be there . . . well, everyone but Hannah Masury. She’s been forbidden to go by her employer, but Hannah doesn’t necessarily heed what she’s told.

When Hannah finally returns to the tavern’s stable where she sleeps, she finds it occupied by a young lad. He claims to be Billy Chandler and he’s hiding because everyone wants him dead. He even shows her the black spot that marks him for death. She’s not fully convinced that he tells the truth until after they head for the tavern to get some food while everyone else is asleep. But they become separated. She hears a gravelly voice and an odd sound before she stumbles upon Billy’s dead body. Then her name floats through the fog. If she wants to live, she has only one chance: don male attire and pretend to be Billy. He planned on shipping out on a schooner as a cabin boy, which provides her with the means and opportunity to escape before the pirates catch her. As they say, the best laid plans don’t always work out exactly as one hopes, and she finds herself aboard the Reporter whose captain spends most of his time drunk in his cabin and the first mate is none other than Edward Low.

Travel forward in time from 1726 to 1930. Professor Marian Beresford teaches history at Cambridge College in Boston. One of her students, Kay Lonergan, has come across a handwritten diary from two centuries ago. Marian is skeptical about its authenticity, but there’s something compelling about the journal. The more she reads, the more she questions her initial findings. She decides to visit her father, an esteemed historian, in New York and get his opinion. He concurs with her initial assessment . . . but even a slim chance of it being real is sufficient for the trio to persuade the Explorers Club to finance a trip to find the pirate treasure that Hannah Masury writes about in her diary. Just imagine the glory that such a find will bring with it. Marian may finally prove herself worthy of following in her father’s footsteps. In the meantime, Kay wants to go for another reason . . . publicity. She thrives on getting her name in the spotlight, and so she joins them on their grand adventure.

The past and present are interwoven in a seamless tapestry that contrasts Masury’s life with Beresford’s. Marian also compares who she is now with who she was when she was Kay’s age, as well as measuring her own choices and career with that of her father. Howe provides an accurate depiction of Ned Low’s brutality as a pirate and hints at the fact that he didn’t start out being that way. The story is also rife with pirate tropes. Pirate life and behavior is realistically portrayed, although I found it interesting that Marian’s father cites The Pirates Own Book as being the source he uses as proof that the journal is a fake. (This 19th-century volume includes falsehoods as well as truths much like the pirate-age contemporary resource, A General History of Pyrates.)

Two words are key to whether this story works: “plausible” and “probable.” Women did masquerade as men and did become pirates, but how likely was it for one to join the crew of Ned Low? While I think the answer improbable, Howe weaves her tale with enough believability to make Hannah’s story plausible. The entwining of past and present strengthens that belief, while the themes of betrayal, humiliation, and proving oneself are universal and transcend time.

Review Copyright ©2023 Cindy Vallar

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Cover Art: Under the Banner of King
Under the Banner of King Death: Pirates of the Atlantic, a Graphic Novel
by David Lester and Marcus Rediker with Paul Buhle
Beacon Press, 2023, ISBN 978-0-8070-2398-3, US $17.95 CAN $23.95

A crowd gathers in Boston in 1720. An unrepentant pirate is to hang. His last words are to shipmasters, warning them to treat sailors honestly and decently. After the execution, John Gwin and Ruben Dekker go to an inn where they are joined by a stranger who buys them drinks. Some time later, they awaken from a drugged sleep aboard a ship of the Royal African Company bound for Sierra Leone.

Forced to work under a tyrannical captain who favors the lash, John is soon punished. Later, others reveal similar scars and talk about the only remedy – rum. That stirs memories of his own journey from Africa to the Caribbean aboard a slave ship. He tells Ruben that he later escaped his bonds and sailed with the pirate Stede Bonnet.

Once their ship disembarks their cargo in Port Royal, the crew celebrates in a tavern. Talk of becoming pirates plants the seeds of mutiny. Another unjust and brutal punishment on the way to New York causes the sailors and some Africans to rise up against Captain Skinner. They elect John as their captain, a sailor named Mark Read as their quartermaster, and go on the account. John asks the Africans where they would like to go and the decision is made to sail back to Sierra Leone to attack the RAC fort there.

The more successful they are in their piratical endeavors, the more incensed those back in London become. They finally decide that the pirates must be brought to justice. They hire pirate hunter William Snelgrave. He may be an experienced sea captain, but he may not be as adept at pirate hunting as he thinks, for he soon finds himself a prisoner of the very pirates he seeks.

Under the Banner of King Death is a graphic novel based on Marcus Rediker’s nonfiction pirate study entitled Villains of All Nations. In the foreword, Redicker explains “Why We Need Pirates,” and shows how the myths surrounding pirates are based on truth that is far more compelling than Hollywood’s depictions of pirates. Paul Buhle pens the afterword, “Pirates We Have Seen: Footnotes from Popular Cultural History” that discusses the current reinterpretation of pirate history and how pirates have been depicted in comics.

The book includes a historical timeline of the Golden Age of Piracy and a glossary of eighteenth-century vulgar speech found within the book. There is even a cameo appearance by Bartholomew Roberts.

Since this is fiction, it’s permissible for the authors to take liberties with some persons from history. Some readers, however, may find this disconcerting since the book is supposed to be a realistic portrayal of pirates. Snelgrave (a pirate captive, but not a pirate hunter) and Read (whose history and demise are well-known) could easily have been given fictional names to make them more believable characters. Equally curious are the use of occasional terms that do not fit the time period (“paramilitary” for example); having a native of the Cayman Islands be familiar with Robin Hood; and interrupting the story to show pictures of weapons, medical and sailing implements, and food.

The most compelling part of this novel is the stark and concrete black-and-white artwork. They depict the grim reality rather than an idealized version of pirates. The story is also realistic in depicting how sailors were treated, what drove them to turn pirate, and why they were willing to die to live a short, but merry, life.

Review Copyright ©2023 Cindy Vallar

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Cover Art: Weymouth Bound
Weymouth Bound
by Paul Weston
Independently Published, 2022, ISBN 9798410209007, US $10.71 / UK £7.99
Also available in e-book format

Jack Stone has a dream. He wants to be a sailor, to travel the seas in search of adventure. His father, a fisherman and smuggler, wants Jack away from the dangers of illegally trafficking goods. To that end, he arranges for Jack to apprentice for seven years with the captain and part owner of the Cicely, a merchant ship that carries cargo from one port to another.

May 1800 finds Jack learning the ins and outs of Cicely and seafaring. With the keen eyes of a youth, he often finds himself aloft as lookout. He gets on with most of the crew, but the one man to steer clear of is the mate, Dennis Vasey. Rumor has it that he frequents opium dens and he’s got a temper. His father is part owner of the ship, so the captain cannot fire him. Nor does Vasey do much even when he is aboard.

One evening, while the rest of the crew is ashore, Jack remains aboard. He’s aloft watching the stars and the area around the ship when he spies Vasey nearing the ship. His movements are furtive, as if he doesn’t wish anyone to know he’s around. Terrified of the mate after almost dying because of one of his orders, Jack remains hidden. Soon after Vasey comes onto the Cicely, he’s joined by a stranger. He’s even more scary, especially since he wears a coat of the Royal Navy and has a scarred scalp. Jack knows he should tell the captain, but he holds his tongue. Doing so turns out to be extremely dangerous, not only for the crew, but also for England. Jack is the only one who can remedy his silence to warn his homeland and the king before it’s too late.

Weymouth Bound is an alluring tale that slowly weaves its spell on the reader. Although written for adults, even young people will enjoy Jack’s ingenuity and courage as he gets far more adventure than he craves, some of which is nerve-wracking and tense. Readers who enjoy nautical tales of accidents at sea, revenue agents, privateers, and shipwrecks will enjoy this first volume in a new trilogy written by a merchant seaman.

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Review Copyright ©2023 Cindy Vallar

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