Review: On Stranger Tides

Rating: ★★★★☆
powers-strangertidesThis may well be the greatest pirate book I’ve ever read.

My discovery of On Stranger Tides by Tim Powers was a strange one. First published 20 years ago, it’s largely flown under the radar amongst the pirate crowds. I’d never heard its name uttered amongst fellow enthusiasts swapping their favorite reads, I’d never heard murmurs of it being made into a movie, never saw it pop up as an recommendation – it’s honestly a miracle I discovered it at all.

It was while reading an old interview with Ron Gilbert – creator of the first two Monkey Island games – that I first learned of this book. The Pirates of the Caribbean Ride has largely been attributed as the inspiration for these brilliant games, but in this interview Gilbert indicated that it was actually the book On Stranger Tides that spurred the creation of Monkey Island. Now, the PotC rides were indeed key to my early love of pirates, and the Monkey Island Games were themselves key during my teenage years. So to learn that there might be a third part of this equation – well, I certainly had to check it out. Continue reading

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. Continue reading

Review: The Island

Rating: ★★★★☆
It’s exceedingly hard to explain the plot of 1980’s The Island without it sounding silly. In a few words, it’s the modern-day story of a reporter and his son being kidnapped and held captive by a crew of inbred pirates who’ve managed to stay under the radar of modern society for 300 years. See? Silly. And yet, not even remotely. Based on a book by the same bloke that wrote Jaws, this is a well crafted story and a decent pirate flick to boot.

The basic deal is this – the famous buccaneer l’Ollonais apparently didn’t die as most historical accounts state (being torn apart alive and eaten by native cannibals), but rather he founded his own society of pirates. His children, grand-children, and great grand-children have continued to raid passing ships by means of acquiring the necessities of life. They honor their past, follow a code, and basically live the “good life”, with the tiny exception that their limited gene pool has begun to bottom out. But never fear – these crafty pirates have learned the key to their salvation. Rather than simply stealing booty, it’s time to start stealing children as well. See? Problem solved. Continue reading

Review: Capt. Hook

Rating: ★★★★★

Capt. Hook: The Adventures of a Notorious Youth
by J.V. Hart

I loved this book. I freakin’ loved this book.

I’ll be honest – I’ve rarely given Captain Hook much thought. I’m not a particular fan of the Peter Pan story, and most depictions of its famous villain have left me rather indifferent. Jason Isaac’s incredible 2005 portrayal was a notable exception – but exactly that, an exception. So Hook in general? Meh.

All this has changed due to Capt. Hook: The Adventures of a Notorious Youth. This is the story of Hook before he was hook – back when he was merely James Matthew, the bastard child of a British Lord, and a new student at Eton. Continue reading

Review: Silver

Rating: ★★★½☆
Silver: My Own Tale as Written by Me with a Goodly Amount of Murder
by Edward Chupack

Silver is a fictional autobiography as penned by none other than Long John himself. Starting with his roots as a back-alley thief and working up through common pirate to eventual captain, it traces his entire life in shameless detail. Long John delights in every crime, every murder, every maneuver for advantage against his adversaries and allies alike.

The first thing a reader needs to understand is that this is not the Long John of Treasure Island –┬áDisney or otherwise. Rather, it’s a new perspective of this same character – more sinister, more murderous. Throughout, many important details of this account won’t quite match with John Hawkins’ own famous telling – this is intentional, as the author states his purpose to create a new story inspired by the Long John Silver, rather than a mere prequel limited by the exact characters and events of Treasure Island. This is important to note, because otherwise a reader might go nuts over several apparent discrepancies (Long John’s missing leg, the origins of the treasure, the role of Hawkins, etc.) Continue reading

Review: Radiance&Shadows

Rating: ★★★½☆
by Catherine R. Donaldson

Radiance&Shadows is the sequel to The Captains Marshall, a book that stood out from any other in that it experimented with the notion of a pirate crew as a maternal (rather than patriarchal) undertaking. It also stood out in its exploration of karmic balance – or lack thereof, to be more specific. The delicate act of being the “nice guy” (or gal) in a business that thrives on brutality can be difficult to manage, and good intentions don’t always bear good results. These are the issues that were explored in the Captains Marshall, and these were the reasons that this first novel was more engrossing and complex than I’d initially expected.

Radiance&Shadows picks up a few years after The Captains Marshall left off. Giselle and Soairse (revealed in this book to be pronounced “seer-sha”) are still dual captains of their own pirate “family”, and seem to have enjoyed continued success since we last left them. The story begins in the Caribbean, Continue reading

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. Continue reading

Review: Quelch’s Gold

Rating: ★★★½☆
Quelch’s Gold: Piracy, Greed, and Betrayal in Colonial New England
by Clifford Beal

It was the golden age of Piracy – a privateer out of New England went “freelance”, violating his letter of marque and plundering a fortune in Portuguese gold. Upon his return home, he was tried and sentenced amongst a deafening uproar of injustice in a region only recently recovering from the Salem Witch Trials. To this day, folks still seek the gold these pirates left behind, while living in a nation founded partly on sparks generated by this very pirate’s conviction. And odds are, you don’t have a clue who I’m talking about.

John Quelch was in many ways the very embodiment of a 1704 pirate. Beginning as a legal privateer, he followed much in the footsteps of his more famous predecessor Captain Kidd as he abandoned the terms of his commission in favor of hunting more lucrative prey. The evidence is pretty clear, and quite damning. That Quelch and his men, armed with a Letter of Marque to hunt the French in the Northern Atlantic instead headed south to Brazil to plunder Portuguese gold is pretty much beyond question. And yet, in the eyes of history this is far from an open-and-shut case, leaving many questions. Continue reading

Review: The Adventures of Long John Silver

Rating: ★★☆☆☆
Robert Newton has his fans, and it’s no wonder. His portrayal of Long John Silver in Disney’s Treasure Island did more to define the role of a “pirate” than any character before or since. True, Jack Sparrow has made a tremendous impact, and may be seen to surpass Long John as the true pirate stereotype in the years to come. But for now, Robert Newton is still the king.

With this in mind, one might expect the television series “The Adventures of Long John Silver” – all six episodes starring Robert Newton in his signature role – to be a true classic gem. And for Newton’s fans, it may well be. Each episode prominently features Newton retackling his interpretation of Silver with every bit of gusto he can muster – and this makes these shows worth watching. But each episode also features dreadfully predictable writing, cliche plot points (Long John saves the orphan’s Christmas??? Crikey!), and many scenes that are downright painful (The not-so-attractive Miss Purity flirting heavily with an even less attractive one-eared pirate is difficult to bear, to say the least.) Continue reading