Celia Rees,
(Bloomsbury, 2003)

With a title like Pirates! one might expect a book packed with nonstop sailing, swordfights and well-swashled buckles.

But Celia Rees is too canny a writer to do the obvious. Pirates! has action a-plenty, but this young-adult novel is thoughtful, well-paced and much more realistic than your average rum-soaked yarn of parrots, peglegs and keel-haulin' on the Seven Seas.

Nancy Kington is the daughter of a wealthy Bristol merchant in the early 18th century. Her fortunes change abruptly, first after her father loses a fleet of trade ships to a storm at sea, and then when her father unexpectedly dies, leaving her fate in the hands of two less-than-loving brothers. Her prospects, as a young Englishwoman at that time, are limited.

The teenage Nancy is uprooted from her home and her young would-be lover, migrating to her late father's sugarcane plantation in Jamaica. There, she learns a few lessons about slavery, the secret and barbaric side of the family business.

When Nancy is told she must marry a rich but brutal man, she and a handful of friendly slaves flee the plantation. After living briefly among outlaws in the wilds of Jamaica, Nancy begs a friendly ship's captain of her acquaintance to take her and her closest friend, Minerva Sharpe, to sea so she can escape her relentless fiancee. But Deliverance is no trading vessel; it's a pirate ship, and Nancy and Minerva soon follow in the footsteps of famed lady pirates Anne Bonney and Mary Read.

Pirates! is intended for readers 12 and over; the violence and a few brief hints of sexuality make it inappropriate for a younger audience. But young adults and adults alike should enjoy the tale, which paints a believable portrait of a year at sea, including both the joys and hardships of the pirate's life. You won't find a band of yo-ho-ho jolly pirates here, nor any mystical pirate curses or X-marks-the-spot pirate treasures. But you will find adventure, excitement, danger, betrayal, a bit of love, a lot of friendship and a few vitally important rubies to boot.

- Rambles
written by Tom Knapp
published 1 May 2004

Buy it from Amazon.com.