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Cindy Vallar, Editor & Reviewer
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Pirate Code                    Bring It Close                    Ripples in the Sand                On the Account

Cover Art: Pirate Code
Pirate Code: The Second Voyage of Captain Jesamiah Acorne
By Helen Hollick
Silverwood Books, 2011, ISBN 978-1-906236-632, US $18.50 / £10.99
(Also available as a Kindle e-book)

(A B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree for Historical Fiction)

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In September 1718, Captain Jesamiah Acorne finds himself in Nassau with the love of his life. There’s just one problem – Tiola is another man’s wife, and her husband has no intention of allowing her to escape unpunished. Being an adulteress, she is to be flogged in public. Jesamiah has no intention of letting that happen, although he knows Tiola’s powers as a white witch will protect her. Jesamiah’s confrontation with her husband, an influential Dutch merchant named Stefan van Overstratten, at Governor Woodes Rogers’ home lands the pardoned pirate captain in jail. The only way he can secure his freedom in time to stop Tiola’s punishment is to accede to Rogers’ and Henry Jennings’ pleas to collect payment for arms supplied to rebels and retrieve vital information from a spy located on Hispañola. And that’s the last place on Earth Jesamiah has any intention of visiting, for to do so would result in a very nasty and slow death at the hands of the corrupt and brutal Spanish governor.

To complicate matters, Commodore Vernon of the Royal Navy arrives with news that England and Spain are at war and he will do whatever it takes to safeguard Britain’s interests in the Caribbean. His admiration for Jesamiah’s ship instigates several actions that force Acorne and his pardoned comrades to once again go on the account. Against their better judgment, the pirates agree to their captain’s hair-brained scheme that takes them to Hispañola, where they offer their services to the Spanish. While the Sea Witch sets out to prove the pirates mean what they say, Jesamiah finds himself under house arrest under the watchful eyes of the governor’s mistress. With her apparent help Jesamiah attempts to track down the one thing that will free Tiola from van Overstratten’s grasp, while ferreting out the English spy and helping the rebels to overthrow the governor. He must accomplish all this while trying to elude the governor’s efforts to kill him, determine which rebel has betrayed his cohorts, and avoid the hangman’s noose that Commodore Vernon intends for him.

Interwoven through these adventures are two tales of three women: Tiola, Rain, and Tethys. The last wants Jesamiah for herself, but can only accomplish this with the help of her daughter, Rain, who may want to keep him. She and her mother are spirits of the Otherworld, and only Tiola can protect Jesamiah, but she’s in a drug-induced sleep aboard her husband’s vessel.

I approached this book with wariness, for I’m not a fan of historical fantasy. Yet early on I found myself engrossed in this action-packed tale that is steeped in history and complicated by unexpected twists and turns that kept me guessing. Although the frequent changes in characters’ points of view were a bit disconcerting, this gripping account of Jesamiah Acorne’s second voyage combines gritty realism with a touch of the fey.

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Book Review Copyright ©2008 Cindy Vallar

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Cover Art: Bring It
          Close
Bring It Close
By Helen Hollick
Silverwood Books, 2011, ISBN 978-1-906236-625, US $18.50 / £10.99
(Also available as a Kindle e-book)

(A B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree for Historical Fiction)

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The third adventure in the Jesamiah Acorne series opens in Nassau in 1718. The former pirate captain has received a royal pardon and plans to wed Tiola, but her skill as a midwife and healer keep her busy and the two lovers rarely see each other. When four men accost him in an alley, Jesamiah ends up in the arms of his former sister-in-law, Alicia, and before long the two spend the night together. Tiola decides to distance herself from Jesamiah and sails to Bath Town, North Carolina to assist a lady in what proves to be a difficult birth.

Angry at himself for betraying Tiola, Jesamiah sets off after her with the crew of the Sea Witch, even though he knows it means he will cross paths with Blackbeard, who bears a grudge against Jesamiah. That ill will only deepens when Jesamiah interferes in Blackbeard’s attempt to capture the ship carrying Tiola. If watching out for Blackbeard to get even isn’t enough of a worry, Jesamiah discovers he didn’t leave Nassau alone. Alicia comes, too, for she’s intent on securing her future. She wants her dead husband’s plantation and Jesamiah can give it to her. But he refuses this request, for after all, the plantation never really belonged to his half-brother, Alicia’s husband, who turned out to not really be his sibling at all. Alicia, however, intends on getting her way, which lands Jesamiah in a Virginia jail on charges of piracy.

Intertwined within these stories is another, that of Jesamiah’s father. Caught in the world between the dead and the living, he wants to make things right. Tiola helps him cross over to mend the hurt he caused Jesamiah as a child, but Charles’s intent is far different from what Tiola expects. Coupled with the hangman’s noose awaiting Jesamiah and Blackbeard’s pledge to make him pay, Jesamiah figures his chances of survival are thin.

Similar to an undulating Chinese dragon, Bring It Close is a serpentine tale with twists and turns that never let the reader alight from the ride until the last page is turned. Hollick deftly weaves magic with history to create a spellbinding account of Blackbeard’s last days, leaving the reader filled with awe, remorse, wonder, and horror. Historical personages such as Blackbeard, Alexander Spotswood, Governor Eden, and Robert Maynard are seamlessly threaded into a story populated with fictional characters that bring the eighteenth century to life. Bring It Close is one pirate adventure you won’t forget.

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 HNS Indie Longlisted 1015

Review Copyrighted ©2009 Cindy Vallar

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Cover Art: Ripples
          in the Sand
Ripples in the Sand
By Helen Hollick
Silverwood Books, 2012, ISBN 978-1-78132-077-8, US $18.00 / £10.99 / CAN $18.03
Also available as Kindle e-Book US $7.00 / £5.14 / CAN $6.92

(A B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree for Historical Fiction)

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Bound for Devon in February 1719, Captain Jesamiah Acorne curses the navy frigate that dogs the Sea Witch. Nothing he or Rue his quartermaster does shakes the vessel that clings “like a barnacle”. Jesamiah fears she means to fight, even though he’s accepted the king’s pardon and is a legitimate merchant trader with a cargo of tobacco to sell. (The not-so-legal brandy and indigo is well hidden from prying eyes.) More importantly, Tiola lies below, seriously ill, possibly dying. When the frigate signals them to heave to and then fires a warning shot, Jesamiah heeds the command. He suspects someone has reported the illicit cargo, so when instead he’s ordered to take on a passenger, Jesamiah breathes a disgruntled sigh of relief until he meets his unexpected guest – Henry Jennings, also a former pirate and Jesamiah’s mate. Henry’s on a special mission for the king – not George who sits on the English throne, but rather James Edward Stuart, the pretender whose father once ruled England.

Henry provides Jesamiah with the names of men who might help him with the sale of his cargo, but he’s wary of taking the suggestions. He wants no part of Henry’s intriguing, especially one that might get him hanged for treason. But selling just the tobacco proves to be more trouble than he suspected, and while waiting to meet one merchant, Jesamiah is accosted by thugs who want “the list.” Although he thwarts the men and escapes, each day brings another twist in the web that threatens to draw him into the rebellion. Adding to his problems is the innkeeper Trevithick, who turns out to be Tiola’s long-lost brother. The animosity between the two men puts a further strain on Tiola, whose health has improved now that she’s on land. But recurring visions of the past and her on-going struggles with Tethys, the spirit of the sea, prevent her from helping Jesamiah when he needs her the most. If she fails to unravel what the past tries to tell her, she may lose him forever.

Hollick blends historical fiction with fantasy to craft a tale of the least-known Jacobite rebellion, the ‘Nineteen, while also exploring family dynamics and the failure to communicate between the generations. Readers will enjoy being reunited with familiar characters, as well as meeting new ones that seem to step out of the pages so the story unfolds as if on a stage rather than in a book. Those new to the series may want to read the previous books so they are better grounded before reading this volume. Much of Ripples in the Sand takes place on land, but once Jesamiah becomes embroiled in the Rising and returns to the sea, he encounters unexpected and astounding waves that lash him from all sides and leave the reader as breathless as the characters. While only former pirates populate this adventure, readers who struggle along with Tiola and Jesamiah, as each unravels the ruses and trickery that lurk behind each chapter, will experience a voyage as perilous and exciting as any buccaneering exploit.
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Review Copyrighted ©2013 Cindy Vallar

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Cover Art: On the Account
On the Account
By Helen Hollick

Silverwood Books, 2016, ISBN 978-1-78132-533-9, £10.99 / $14.49
e-book ISBN 978-1-78132-534-6, £3.99 / $5.99

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In March 1719, Tiola Oldstagh treks through the English countryside at night. She’s unable to contact Jesamiah and, fearing for his life, she heads for the only man who might help save her husband. But she senses someone follows – Maha’dun, a Night-Walker she once saved from death. He claims to seek the same man, but he’s really tracking a bone-box, in hopes that it will lead him one step closer to The Carver, the man who crafted several such caskets from the bones of slain Night-Walkers. Legend says those who possess one become powerful, and Maha’dun follows Tiola because he thinks she knows where one is. When they reach their destination, the man they seek isn’t at home.

Knowing time is running out for her husband, Tiola retraces her steps only to fall and injure herself. While she suffers alone on the moor, Cara’mina, a High-born Night-Walker, blames Tiola for the death of her lover, and her need for vengeance puts her sanity in question. She wants the bone-box Tiola possesses, but all Tiola actually has is a pendant given her by a woman who once owned a box. When Cara’mina insists on learning who and where the woman is, all Tiola says is “Francesca Escudero” and “Bristol” before she passes out.

Jesamiah Acorne awaits trial in Bristol. His friend, Henry Jennings, has offered to help, but Jesamiah neither wants nor needs his kind of help. His schemes and plots are what got Jesamiah into his present predicament – arrested on charges of smuggling and his ship, the Sea Witch, wrecked. Adding to his misery is the possibility that his wife no longer loves him, because ever since his incarceration, he’s been unable to mentally communicate with her. Not that Tiola doesn’t have every right to be angry with him. After all, he did bed another woman and get her with child, even though Francesca denies it’s his. But in spite of this infidelity, he loves Tiola and needs to find her.

Maha’dun finds Tiola on the moor and takes her to her home, where her friends care for her. Being a White Witch, she could heal herself, but only Jesamiah and Maha’dun know what she is. Her one wish is for Maha’dun to go to Bristol and keep Jesamiah safe.

During Jesamiah’s trial, Francesca sweeps into the courtroom and claims to bring a letter from King George for the judge. The contents result in the suspension of the trial, and Jesamiah and his men are released. While he is walking through town with Francesca, she’s murdered by an assassin. Only Jesamiah thinks the blade was actually meant for him – a fact that is reinforced by the discovery of a dead man in Jesamiah’s bed at the inn where he had taken a room.

Maha’dun accompanies Jesamiah on his journey back to Tiola, but it turns out to be more perilous than either man expects. Even after their reunion, Jesamiah and Tiola aren’t safe. Cara’mina still wants vengeance and doesn’t care who dies in the process. Then there are those who seek the power of the bone-box and who wish to manipulate Jesamiah into doing their bidding. Instead, he and Tiola set sail for Spain to find Francesca’s young son– a dying plea from Francesca because Leondro’s name appears on a killing list. But even Spain proves unsafe, for Barbary pirates are raiding coastal towns in search of children to sell into slavery, and Tiola vanishes.

While I like Jesamiah and Tiola, I found Maha’dun the more intriguing character in this tale. I don’t necessarily like everything he does, but he often seems to steal the limelight (so to speak). His character has so much depth and grows so much. In spite of his fears, he ventures into realms that terrorize him and becomes a stronger and far more fascinating character as he does so.

On the Account is the fifth voyage in the Cpt. Jesamiah Acorne series, and it is a complex tale of magic, intrigue, and true love. Hollick has included a map, a diagram of the sails and masts of a square-rigged ship, and a glossary to help readers unfamiliar with ships and sailing. Some people may find several scenes too brutal and a few physical relationships may not be to everyone’s taste, but Hollick weaves a spine-tingling story that compels readers to keep turning pages rather than putting the book aside. Readers experience a whirlwind of emotions, from devastating sadness to bright hopefulness. Final farewells are said to characters who have been part of Jesamiah’s life for several books. But that is part of real life, which makes even the unbelievable possible as you read On the Account.

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Learn more about Jesamiah Acorne

Review Copyrighted ©2016 Cindy Vallar


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