Category Archives: Pirates

Under The Bloody Black Flag

The Bloody Black Flag
Steve Goble
Seventh Street Books
Trade Paper $15.99
ebook $9.99

The Bloody Black Flag is both a murder mystery as well as rousing pirate adventure. I’ll look at the historical adventure aspect of the novel here. The mystery component I review at Gumshoes, Gats, and Gams.

The story opens in October 1722. Spider John and his friend Ezra, fleeing from the British Navy, have given up their attempt to establish honest lives on shore and are returning to a life of piracy, or going back on the account as they would say.  They sign up with Plymouth Dream, a pirate ship captained by the despotic Captain Barlow. Unlike most ships, where the crew votes on all decisions except during combat, when the captain has absolute authority, Barlow rules with an iron hand at all times.

Barlow is sailing for Jamaica, which suits Spider and Ezra just fine.  Trouble comes during the first night, when one of the crew murders Ezra.  Spider John swears to find the murderer and kill him, but he has more immediate problems, such as staying alive himself.  Before his death, Ezra was recognized by one of the crew and accused of having witchblood because of his family history.  The same accusation could be made against Spider, so he has to keep a low profile while he pursues his investigation, pirates being a superstitious lot. Fortunately, his role as the ship’s carpenter gives him a reason to move about and talk to the other pirates.

It doesn’t take Spider long to figure out that Plymouth Dream is not your typical pirate ship, and not just because of the way things are run.  Barlow, the first mate Addison, and the second mate are hiding secrets.  They have a small item they intend to sell in Jamaica to an agent of the French crown.  When the item goes missing, Spider finds he’s shipped out on the pirate ship from Hell. Continue reading

Vampires of the Carribean

Cast in Dark Waters
Ed Gorman and Tom Piccirilli
various ebook formats, $2.99
Kindle  Nook Smashwords

In spite of the fact that this is a fairly short piece of fiction (less than 19,000 words), Cast in Dark Waters is one of the best weird pirate stories I’ve ever read.  The characters, particularly the protagonist, Crimson, seemed to almost walk off the page, they came across so real.

Crimson is a lady pirate, widowed, who is the toughest, most dangerous buccaneer in the Carribean.  The plot is straightforward.  An Englishman, having taken up the life of a Virginia tobacco farmer, has found out that his daughter has run away from finishing school in England with a notorious pirate.  He and his wife have come seeking Crimson’s help in finding her.  The pair of lovers are rumored to be staying on an island with a dark reputation.  Supposedly the undead also inhabit the island.

And Crimson’s former husband may be among them.

That’s all I’ll say about the plot.  This story could have come from Weird Tales, a collaboration of Henry S.Whitehead and Robert E. Howard.  There are elements of both in this tale.  The creepiness factor is about an 11.5 on a scale of 1 to 10.  There’s plenty of swordplay, and if you listen carefully, you can almost hear the mast creaking in the breeze and smell the spray of the ocean as it breaks over the fo’c’sle.

Crimson is a wonderfully wounded heroine, and it’s amazing how much depth Gorman and Piccirilli bring to what would be a stock character in the hands of lesser writers, a woman buccaneer who’s as tough as a man.  That’s almost become as much of a cliche in some circles as the maiden needing rescue.  And they do it in far fewer pages than most writers would use.

All of the characters are well drawn.  Their relationships are real, and they defy expectations.  In fact, the whole thing defies expectations.  You think you know what is going to happen once they reach the island, but Gorman and Piccirilli sidestep the obvious approach and go for the unexpected.

I rushed through this one in a single sitting.  Gorman has long been a favorite of mine, but this is AFAIK the first work I’ve read by Piccirilli.  I’ll need to read more of his stuff.  I hope they write a sequel; I want to read more about  Crimson.

Cast in Dark Waters, for all its grimness, was some of the most fun I’ve had in a great while.  I highly recommend it.

Long Looks at Short Fiction: Blackskull’s Captive by Tom Doolan

Blackskull’s Captive
Tom Doolan
Kindle ebook format, 0.99

If this short story, the first publication by Tom Doolan, is any indication of what we can expect from him, then he’s someone you will want to add to your list of must-read authors.

“Blackskull’s Captive” is a delightful and thoroughly entertaining blend of fantasy, space opera, and old fashioned pirate adventure.  Written in part as an homage to Treasure Island, it’s the story of Jack Munro, an orphan who is captured by Orcs and forced into being the cabin boy of the dreaded Captain Blackskull. 

Now Orcs in space (or Orccss innn Spaaacce! – sorry, I couldn’t resist) may sound at first glance like it won’t work, but I assure you it does.  Part of the reason is the voice.  The story has the tone of a novel or journal from the 1700s or 1800s.  The only difference is that this one is readable, quite readable.  I’m sure being a history major helped as far as the style is concerned, but Doolan has crafted a character who is both courageous and resourceful, yet not without flaws, which makes him all the more engaging.  Young Jack Munro learns from his mistakes and grows, turning from frightened victim to hero.  Doolan manages to stuff more character development into a few pages than some epic fantasies do in five times the number of pages.

The thing I found intriguing, and my geek is showing here, is that the universe is a blend of the 17th century and the 21st.  The costuming, for lack of a better word, is out of Treasure Island, while the science (with the exception of one mention of the aether) is out of Stephen Hawking.  Artificial gravity and plasma guns alongside cutlasses and sailing ships in outer space.  I want to know more about how this universe works.  Aether and super science?  Definitely cool.

Fortunately I’ll get the chance.  Doolan said on his blog when he announced the story that he’s completed one sequel and is working on a second.  I had a blast reading this story.  Doolan’s prose pulled me into the story, and the unique setting and well realized characters made me want to stay.

As is my custom when reviewing indie published works, a few words on the production values.  The cover art is a perfect fit for the story.  There were no typos or formatting problems.  This was what an ebook should be like.  Why can’t New York figure that out?

This little ebook is a great buy.  Check it out.