Anthony R. Fanning,
Natalie's Good Fortune
(Bilge Barrel, 2008)

I love a good pirate yarn. And Natalie's Good Fortune, by first-time author Anthony Fanning, is a good pirate yarn.

But Fanning almost lost me in the beginning, long before a single pirate was seen.

For one thing, the story is packed with typographical errors -- although, to be fair, there were fewer than you'll often find in a self-published, print-on-demand book such as this. Still, spelling and grammar are important to me, and it's annoying when I'm pulled from the flow of a story by a stupid mistake.

But Fanning could have used a good editor for another reason, too. Style. In the first few chapters especially, Fanning demonstrates a love for adjectives that far exceeds the demands of the story. His florid writing style is top-heavy, never sacrificing five words when a 20-word exposition would do. An editor could maybe have reined him in a bit, perhaps showed him the benefits of brevity.

Also, this novel -- which has as its protagonist a 16-year-old girl -- is written in a style that seems most appropriate for young-adult readers. While it certainly doesn't match the flavor of L.A. Meyer's free-spirited Jacky Faber -- check out Meyer's Bloody Jack series if you haven't already -- Natalie Satterfield is an appealing character, and readers will enjoy the experiences that thrust her from the comfortable life of a young English lady and into the ill-fitting shoes of a castaway and gender-disguised sailor. Unfortunately, the book's young-adult standing is jeopardized by Fanning's abundant focus on the perils of rape, which just seems a bit overused from beginning to end. From the very first page:

They passed her around like a bottle of rum, each man having a go at her, all rough and violent like, and then going around again until she were completely worn inside-out; emptied of both mind and spirit, her body no more than a living rag.

There's more, and it gets worse, if never explicit. You'll also read your share about young men and shipboard sodomy, too.

OK, so I've told you about the flaws. There are positives, too -- enough so that I took to carrying the book around in my jacket pocket so I'd always have it close to hand. Natalie herself is -- or, rather, becomes -- a strong, resourceful character that it's a treat to know. Supporting characters, from the coarse but noble privateer Black John Hayes to the young, terrified stowaway George and even Natalie's rarely seen parents, are well developed and intriguing.

The story, set in 1722-23, is packed with adventure, from pirate attacks to island cannibals, roaring sea battles and sudden squalls. I'm sure Natalie will continue to grow in future volumes (the next, The Isle of Lost Souls, is already available); I just hope she soon finds a copy of Moll Flanders to replace the copy she lost.

[ visit the author's website ]

review by
Tom Knapp

8 May 2010

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