S.K. Keogh,
The Prodigal
(Fireship, 2012)

A boy is heading to the American colonies when his life is forever changed. A pirate ship off the coast raids the ship. His father is killed, his mother taken as a hostage by the pirate captain ... and the boy, later found in the company of some of the very pirates who held him captive, is assumed to be one of them and is thrown in prison.

For seven years.

When he gets out, now a young man, he has only two purposes in his life: Find his mother. And kill James Logan, the pirate who murdered his father.

Susan Keogh's The Prodigal is the first book in what appears to be an ongoing series about Jack Mallory. There are other characters, too, who I suspect will continue to be a part of his life: Maria Cordero, a former tavern owner whose father was also murdered by the brutal Logan, and Josiah Smith, another pirate whose life was tied to Mallory's by a shared prison sentence.

The Prodigal is set largely at sea, but it's not a book in the Aubrey, Hornblower or Bolitho vein wherein a great deal of technical seamanship is imparted to the reader. While it's clear Keogh has a workmanlike understanding of sailing, she doesn't spend much ink on which ropes you haul to shift particular sails. That's fine, too -- not every nautical novel needs to be a sailor's textbook. In this case, the author spends her energy on a strong plot and interesting characters -- none of whom is perfect or pure, and none of whom is entirely evil, either.

The novel ends at a critical linchpin, and one might wish Keogh had written at least one more chapter to get us off the tenterhooks she's created. Since she did, in fact, end there, I can only hope the second book comes soon.

book review by
Tom Knapp

9 March 2013

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