At last, a pirate novel I can get on board with!
Pirates! by Celia Rees rightfully deserves the exclamation in the title; it thrills, it chills, it reads like speed on the high seas.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been on a quest to read the perfect pirate novel. And I’ve always been disappointed…
Pirate novels are a problematic subject matter and you are always in danger of treading into campy waters. After a while, the overwhelming number of “arghs!” leads me to “eh” and I’ll cast off the novel to the land of abandoned books.
Not so with Celia Rees’ pirate novel…
1724. The Golden Age of Piracy. The only daughter of a wealthy sugar merchant and slave trader, sixteen year old Nancy Kington grew up on the Bristol docks watching her father’s merchant fleet sail away to uncharted waters. Nancy thought her life was mapped out until her father’s untimely death changed everything…
I won’t give too much away other than to hint that Nancy finds herself bound by chance and friendship to her slave, Minerva Sharpe, and the two defy female expectations, transforming into pirates.
Before you roll your eyes at another women-disguised-as-men themed pirate novel, I’m here to convince you that there’s a special something about Celia Rees’ brand of nautical adventure that raises this book one step above your average bodice-ripper. Nancy’s bodice didn’t just get ripped, it was slash away with a cutlass and for some reason, I didn’t find that cheesy at all.
Celia Rees has a remarkable talent. She writes about the coolest, most melodramatic topics—witch hunts, girl pirates, highwaywomen—but does so in a way as to make the subject matter believable, realistic even, but never laughable. Her novels incite the collective imagination of the restless girl readers. This is a world where girls kick butt, duel with swords, parry with words, saves the guy, and the term ‘damsel in distress’ holds no resonance.
What I liked best about Pirates! is the constant suspense; the suspense builds and builds but never relents. If books can make sounds, then the sound of Pirates! is a drum beat or a hive of angry bees. No doubt, the reader is alert.
I imagine Celia Rees would make an unparalleled horror writer. I found her other novel Witch Child unsettling enough to cause the appearance of goosebumps because the fear factor revolved around what people believed. In Pirates!, Rees conjures up the old legends about ghost ships, voodoo, and the overall creepiness of an old slave plantation. There are no monsters, vampires, ghosts, or serial killers jumping out of bushes and dark corners. Sometimes, the scariest stories are based in reality, in what people are taught to believe, in old superstitions, in human cruelty, and in the prospect that these things can happen and has happened before.