Review: The Pirate of Panther Bay

Rating: ★★☆☆☆
The Pirate of Panther Bay
by S.R. Staley

The Pirate of Panther Bay is a story that begins midstream, dropping the reader in the middle of events already well underway, and leaving you to play catchup even as additional events transpire. In some ways, this adds a sense of life and urgency, but in others it’s just plain confusing.

The book follows the exploits of Isabella, a novice pirate captain that recently inherited her position upon the death of her boyfriend (himself being the previous captain.) A former slave turned free rogue, Isabella is headstrong and skilled with the blade, but also full of self-doubt. She’s also of dubious leadership abililty – a fact to which she often seems painfully aware, and yet somehow she still expects – scratch that – she demands devoted loyalty from her inherited crew.

I’m unsure what to make of this book. On the one hand, it should be ripe for intrigue – the concept of a former slave girl wrestling with her own shortcomings even as she struggles to wear a captain’s hat should make for compelling drama. But unfortunately, much of it comes across instead like a girl who – while a talented fencer – has no business expecting a crew of pirates to follow her simply because she was the former captain’s main squeeze. Her lack of readiness for command is made all the more clear from her additional struggle with her own girlish crush on a spanish prisoner, Captain Santa Anna. Even as she’s disgusted at her own fluffy feelings for the young spaniard, she seems entirely ruled by impulse. Santa Anna, in turn, nurses his own boyish behavior as he’s smitten by Isabella, and compelled by her strong will and commanding demeanor (the strong will I’ll give him, but Isabella seems anything but commanding. Bossy perhaps, but not commanding.) This makes for a drawn out romance that seems more born of puppy love than any genuine connection.

As the book goes on, the midstream nature of its opening is strangely maintained. New characters are introduced and recognized by other characters (but not the reader), but the nature and significance of the recognitions aren’t always explained. This could be a story telling technique, but feels more like incompleteness. This and other factors lead to an ongoing sense of low-level confusion. Conversations at times are inconsistent, such as once instance where a character thinks something, and another character verbally responds to the thought as if they were a mind reader. Isabella’s doubts and former losses are visited and revisited to such a degree that I began to wonder if I was accidentally rereading the some paragraphs I’d already read several chapters before. And terms such as “Score!”, and the use of striking matches, feel strangely out of place.

The Pirate of Panther Bay ends much as it began, with a rather forced display of unlikely puppy love, and the promise of much more story to come. Many things remain unexplained, particularly regarding a prophecy regarding Isabella that had been alluded to throughout the book, yet never fully addressed.

All told, this is a book that feels incomplete – not only in the way it fails to directly introduce or resolve characters and concepts, but in the way it tells the story. Further exposition and further drafting could have done wonders to smooth out inconsistencies and contradictions, and may have done much to polish up the many underlying – and potentially compelling – qualities.

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