There’s always something special about young adult pirate books. They seem less bogged down than adult books at times, and often revel in a fascination with pirate mythology that’s both nostalgic and timeless. The Pirate Vortex by Deborah Cannon, however, is a strangely different beast altogether. Hardly timeless, it’s rather decidedly contemporary as it follows the adventures Elizabeth, Lulu, Wang, and CJ (a rather foul-mouthed parrot) as they search for Liz and Lu’s mother, being a pirate archaeologist who suddenly disappeared.
While the heroes of the story are quite modern, the journey largely is not. Yes, time travel is involved, and never before in a pirate adventure have I seen the modern in such stark contrast with the historical. The narrative of this story, much like its heroes, is a clear product of modern materialism and technology. Scuba gear, iPhones, Swatch Watches, text messaging… indeed, countless “product placement” moments are brought to a head as the protaganists find themselves emersed in the golden age of piracy, a time that most all historical scholars would agree was dreadfully lacking in “Pantene Pro V” (much to the dispair of one of our heroines.) On the one hand, this book’s healthy dosage of name-brand recognition made me feel rather old, as did some of the teenage terminolgoy (when did girls start “crushing” on boys? I missed that one), but on the other hand it also serves as a unique opportunity, thrusting into the reader’s face just how vastly these times differed from the present.
Historical contrasts aside, the story itself is one of exploration and mystery. It begins in the modern day as Liz and Lu learn of their mother’s aforementioned disappearance. Their efforts to learn her whereabouts soon unearth a Bermuda triangle-esque phenominum that allows the girls to explore the Golden Age of Piracy itself. But as with all things, it’s not quite that simple. Timelines must be maintained, and even as the girls attempt to solve their own troubles, they must tread carefully to avoid making more problems with far longer range consequences (fear of never being born, for example.) Added to the mystery is the question of Daniel Corker, an apparent ally who seems to be able to appear and dissappear at will, with no concern for time or place. That he boasts many of the physical attributes that female pirate fans tend to favor (meaning his description parallels that of Jack Sparrow in many respects) surely won’t hurt his appeal with many a lady reader – an appeal that’s equally shared by Liz as she’s forced to balance her budding affections for this roguish time travel with those of her more traditional friend Wang.
It’s a light and enjoyable read, but I would mostly recommend this book for a teenage girl audience. While it’s written in a non-gender-specific third person, it still heavily identifies with Liz, and is told largely from her perspective. And while a female protaganist doesn’t necessarily preclude the enjoyment of a male reader, in this case the story is so heavily in tune with the young female outlook (fashion, boys, etc.) that it does at times feel a bit like snooping through your sister’s diary.