Review: Pirate Code

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

Pirate Code
by Helen Hollick

Having previously read and reviewed Sea Witch by Helen Hollick, I was looking forward to checking out its sequel, Pirate Code, which seems to begin mere moments after Sea Witch concluded. We immediately join up with the tale’s protagonists, pirate Jesemiah Acorne and his – well, girlfriend I suppose (being as they’re so devoted to one another, girlfriend seems too weak a term. But since she’s married to another, she really can’t be otherwise), the witch Tiola. Tiola and Jesemiah are well occupied dealing with the difficulties of Tiola’s husband, who refuses to grant a divorce – but this distraction is soon eclipsed by the larger issue of England going to war with Spain, followed by Governor Woodes Rogers’ revocation of pirate amnesties for the purpose of pressing all able seamen into service.

Acorne, however, is more than a mere able seaman, and is therefore manipulated into a more demanding and somewhat convoluted secret mission that takes him to Spanish Jamaica where he must coordinate with an English agent while at the same time claim cargo from a plantation – formerly held by his family but more recently by his girlfriend’s husband – for the purpose of convincing said husband to grant Tiola her freedom. The journey involves many elements of intrigue and danger, but it also doesn’t really go anywhere in the end. For all the travels, excursions, and plot twists, very little is ultimately accomplished – making Pirate Code something of a middle story in a larger saga. It seems most of the character development has already occurred in the previous book. And while many of Pirate Code’s characters and events might lead to bigger things in future novels, they seem to serve little role here aside from elaborate introduction.

On their own the above issues could be easily overcome to make for a decent pirate “pulp” novel – a fun swashbuckler with just enough sex to add spice. Which is more or less what this is – a decent pulp novel. But it does suffer one more pervasive flaw that regrettably distracts from the story, and that is the personification of Jesemiah Acorne himself.

Jesemiah is nearly perfect, it seems. He’s a brilliant sailor who quickly commands the respect of all around him. His crew is deeply devoted, and most of them would follow him to the ends of the earth. He’s a master strategist and tactician, has a way with animals, and has an open mind and deep humanity that are in stark contrast to most every other male mentioned (most of whom seem to be weak-willed and selfish, or just plain bulbous and disgusting.)

Acorne is a pirate god among men, clearly. And what’s more, he’s also a hit with the ladies. Jesemiah Acorne is, as would be expected, loved by Tiola. But he’s also loved by Tethys, the sea goddess, and her daughter Rain. He’s further loved (or at least desired) by women of all classes that he meets during his exploits. During a time of absence, it’s even implied that his very ship aches for his return. Female loins throughout the Caribbean seem to ignite at his mere presence, despite his bearded, unwashed, Sparrow-esque pirate appearance (and therefore, not likely a huge draw to any woman of the time, save the very low class or those looking to score a coin or two for their troubles.) Acorne’s greatness makes him more a character of fantasy than a believably historical adventure hero, and puts him rather at odds with the general gritty tone of the story.

I enjoyed Sea Witch. I did not enjoy Pirate Code nearly as much. Hollick’s writing remains strong and descriptive. Her Caribbean is an exciting one, full of corrupt governments, conniving whores, brutal pirates, and unforgiving seas. But her clear love of Jesemiah Acorne has led her to hold him up as a shining heroic and romantic beacon in this otherwise bleak, harsh environment. It’s a role that doesn’t well suit him, and any readers that aren’t enraptured by Jesemiah’s many, many admirable qualities may find this book a less fulfilling read than was its predecessor.

8 thoughts on “Review: Pirate Code

  1. Hrrmph! LOL – I believe the author has a right of reply? 🙂

    I think that’s a fair enough review, thank you Bilgemunky. I always appreciate constructive criticism (though obviously I would have preferred you to have loved it ! : ) but thank you for the nice comments about my writing.

    I am aware that Pirate Code is rather a linking novel – the second in a series is always hard to get right. I think my female readers may take issue with you as they are more than happy with Jesamiah as he is, although I take your point – he is perhaps too much of a ‘James Bond’ type character, who as the hero gets everything right. (Though as that has worked fine for Ian Fleming I don’t think I’ll complain.)

    I’ll try to make sure he isn’t such a hero in the next book, Bring It Close, where he is up against Blackbeard

    I take issue with you a little bit about the state of cleanliness though – hardly anyone was clean at that time, everyone had body odour, apart maybe from the gentry who could afford the luxury of washing. Smelly armpits etc were the norm in the 18th Century, cleanliness went out with the Tudors & came back with the Victorians.
    Also Jesamiah does have a bath & a shave etc (chapter 8, part 2, page 169.)
    And he does wash when he can – though in a novel it can be a bit tedious to keep saying so. I have put things like “massaging his face he realised he needed a shave”

    Add to that the story takes place over only a couple of weeks, and in that time Jesamiah is aboard ship, in jail, riding across country, in a fight …. hardly the sort of circumstances to be washing. (and he was wet some of the time because of the rain – I wonder if people bothered washing when it rained?)

    Still I’ll make sure he bathes a bit more often where I can .

    I will be interested to see if any of my fans add comments to your review….. especially the ladies

    I very much value your opinion by the way, I want to make this series a success & it is only by getting honest, sensible, feedback from readers that I can analyse where to go in future

    🙂 Helen Hollick
    Main Website:
    My Pirate Novels:
    1066 the Movie:

  2. I LOVE Pirate Code, and Jesemiah. He is by far one of the best Pirate characters I have read in a long time. Helen does a wonderful job of pulling the image right off the page, with enough action to keep you turning and romance to keep you up at night reading. By far one of the best series of books I have read in a long time.

  3. Well Helen took the words right out of my mouth before I had a chance to write them! James Bond- gotta love him- is fantastic and yes, perfect. Jes, while seeming to be perfect is actually human. He cries, feels pain and yes, is smelly after his exploits whereas James Bond never messes up a bit of hair. Absolutely keep him as perfect as possible yet keeping that little bit of humanity, Helen – that’s why I like him. Think of the Three Musketeers and Robin Hood and all those heroes that we love and part of the reason that we do love them is because they win – they win against bad guys.

    I also think that having developed her characters in the first book, she didn’t need to continue to do so in this second. I like that she moved the action forward and left us wanting more. I enjoy the fantastic element of Tethys but I like that it’s not the biggest element in the book. I’m not a fan of fantasy, but this adds that dimension that always seems to exist in the pirate [and other sea-faring] worlds. Superstition runs deep in those that sail so having that element as a part of this series adds to the bigger story.

    In series, I usually find the middle book[s] to be less dramatic than the beginning or the end, [Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Dark is Rising series, Narnia, etc] but that really makes sense since the 2nd book does, like I said before really need to exist to move the story forward, adding new characters, plot twists and other devices which lead us to the big finale when it finally comes. As opposed to other series however, this book could stand alone. I like Jes, like Tiola and like the action – and sexy bits. I look forward to more stories about Jes.
    Pirates are interesting people and Jes is no different…

  4. Well,Jesemiah has no comparison in the world of books at this time and yet he does in film, one said Captain Jack Sparrow who has to be seen to be appreciated fully~

    So! If I could change anything, I would like it if he were more of a funny superhero pirate? I love humour with drama.

    This is what divides him and his only peer Captain Jack Sparrow, a Disney pirate and a huge plus is that he is portraid by Johnny Depp which was very very good thinking!

    Thats it! Make him Captain Jack but different(you’ve already began!)

    We love funny men! Its a very nice thing to be able to make another laugh. All Captain Jack has to do is walk for me to laugh and he can take flight like Peter Pan, swing a sword
    like Errol Flynn and do it with the ease of the most seasoned Jedi! Visually.

    If you enjoy true historical facts and the information learned while being entertained with a story about a pirate a bit more serious yet hot! You WILL enjoy these stories
    probably more than the men who will enjoy them first!

    Wonderful and one of a kind. Writing pirate fiction for adults!

    I love originality~

    Always impressive work! Can never put your books down! Cant wait for the movie of your other work!

    your fan
    and a New Orleans Lady
    Diane Worlens

  5. As someone who seldom reads novels, I have, however, enjoyed Helen’s books due to the sheer vibrancy of her writing & the humanly flawed nature of her characters.

    I would say that Jes is far from perfect (James Bond he aint, thank goodness) & as the previous commenter stated, the goundwork of scene-setting & character building had already been done in the first book. I actually prefered Pirate Code for that reason – rather like catching up with friends after the trouble of getting to know them has already been taken. I also liked the slightly less ‘action-packed’ quality of P C & enjoyed the chance to relish the tighter timescale & the detail it afforded.

    As for washing, it is only in recent times (& possibly one or two other set periods in history) that so much store has been placed on personal cleanliness. When almost everyone stinks, it becomes hardly noticable – a week at the Glastonbury festival will confirm that one! LOL

    With regard to the Ladies liking Jes, it is often the case that the ‘rougher’, less suave types, have great appeal to women of all classes (familiarity to the lower, excitement to the middle & challenge, or the spice of rebellion to the higher).

    Can’t wait for ‘Bring It Close’.

  6. Great comments – I always welcome feedback regarding reviews. And while I’m of course aware that cleanliness standards in the age of piracy weren’t those of today, it simply stands to reason that anyone disembarking from a ship would carry a different level of hygeine than would a landlubbing aristocrat. And as to clean shaven – time and again reference is made to Jesemiah’s many blue ribbons tied into his beard, despite beards being quite out of fashion at the time (this was part of what made Blackbeard so odd and frightening.)

    Based on descriptons, it seems quite likely that Jesemiah was cast in a similar mold as Jack Sparrow, and while Jack was much loved by the audience, he wasn’t quite the same hit with the ladies onscreen, who mostly recoiled at his breath or just slapped him. It was this counter-balance that I felt was missing from Jesemiah.

  7. Er Bilge … Jesamiah’s blue ribbons are laced into his HAIR not his beard. He laces them in up near the scalp.

    He keeps his beard trimmed as a short jaw-line beard – there are no plaited braided bits a la Jack for my Jesamiah, nor does he sport a bushy ‘Blackbeard’ type beard!

    The ribbons are mentioned fairly often because they are:

    1) his trademark. The colour is actually royal blue but several of Jesamiah’s crew & friends call it “Jesamiah Blue”.

    2) he gives them as “keep sakes” to the ladies

    3) he uses them for several other things … the main one of which I will not mention here as it comes at the end of Sea Witch and I don’t want to give the game away to those who have not read the book.

    4) Anyone who gets a personally signed copy of my books also gets a length as blue ribbon – another use, a bookmark! LOL

    5) and did you notice there is a blue ribbon on the spine of the books? (there is also a ‘hidden’ jolly roger on the front covers) These will be on all books of the series.

    6) Pirates often wore ribbons tied into their hair, (especially when being hanged!) so this is not my own invention.

    7) I haven’t mentioned this use yet but early condoms (cundums as they were called then) were used to protect against sexually transmitted diseases. They were made (usually) from leather or lamb’s intestines and they were kept on by …. yes you’ve guessed it, tied on with a ribbon.

    Ladies also tied their stockings up with ribbon. And Jesamiah is always willing to help a lady in need 🙂

    I’ll be delighted to hear of some other uses Jesamiah can find for his ribbons!


  8. I got to know Helen briefly first before I read her books. As one who never has time to read I was amazed that in 3 days I had her first book done and the second one on the way to me. Her writing had me hooked after the first chapter and I couldn’t put the book down. I was reading it at a festival I was at and got so involved I didn’t even notice when people came in my booth…LOL.
    Her writing is exciting and her characters have such style you can actually feel what they feel. The way the story draws you inside and it seems to have everything that makes for good reading. A love story…conflicts and rivals….adventure…. betrayal…..magic…who could ask for more.
    Pirate’s code had a unique way of continuing where Sea Witch left off. Not a whole of time had passed (like in other sequals) and once the situation was established you fell right back into the pattern of the book again.
    There are many twists and turns in this novel..and it seems the plot thickens with every chapter. Everyone seems to have an alternate agenda with what they want and how they plan to get it. The characters seem to all be linked in a great circle of family or by association. The type of thing that could be very confusing but Helen seems to make it easier to follow by the insight she gives into each character so that they are NOT faceless people but intricate parts of a building block. It’s almost a severe reality check as you realize that these people whether they be Pirates or not all have deep secrets and ways to go after what they desire and damned be the man or woman who stands in their way. Kinda humbling actually…she gets us to see the nature of our own selves in these wonderful characters.
    As usual the ending leaves you craving for more..and with the next book coming out I know it will be as intriguing as the others. Jesamiah and Tiola have more adventures ahead of them and I will there every step with them.

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