Monday, July 7, 2014

Review: Pirates! - Celia Rees

Pirates! by Celia Rees
Genre: YA, historical fantasy
Published on October 1, 2003
Published by Bloomsbury
Pages: 340
Read From: 6.29.14 - 7.4.14

At the dawn of the eighteenth century, when girls stay home and sew while men sail the high seas finding adventure, danger and gold, two unusual girls, Nancy Kington and Minerva Sharpe, one a rich merchant's daughter, the other her plantation slave, set sail from Jamaica on a ship the crew renames Deliverance. Not just any trading ship, Deliverance flies black flags from its mast and proclaims to all that the new ship is a pirate vessel, striking fear into the hearts of those she approaches. Or so they hope. 
For Nancy, Deliverance is her escape from an arranged marriage with a controlling and devilish man. For Minerva, it is escape from slavery, as well as from the fearsome overseer on Nancy's family plantation. But in the end, the money, the adventure, the companionship and the chance to see the world not as women, but as fearsome pirates, is an opportunity neither can deny.


Cover Blurb: Yes or No? A little bit of both, actually. I am, of course, thoroughly against character impersonators and covers that stare at me. But combined with the title and the ruby earring (for some reason), it catches my attention.

Characters: I must give Pirates! this: the female characters are very good. Next to Minerva, Nancy is pretty average. She craves adventure, but when she's finally faced with it, she comes to realize how terrifying it really is. Even so, she doesn't whine and she learns to step up to the challenge. But she never takes to it like Minerva. As a whole, I liked Nancy. She didn't have The Attitude, she faced her fears, and she stood for what was right. Minerva has a bit more spice. She has escaped slavery and she isn't about to go back to it. She takes to life at sea as if she were born to it, and she has a way of completely masking her emotions when she's scared. She also doesn't have The Attitude, but she's definitely got a bit of a sharp side to her. The secondary characters - Captain Broom, Vincent, the other crewmen - are all quite likable and interesting. The villain, Bartholome, is very creepy, but I wish we could have spent more time with him; gotten to know just how creepy he was, even though the brief times we are around him, he definitely makes an impression.

The Romance: Nancy has a childhood sweetheart, William, who has joined the Navy so he might be considered worthy by Nancy's brothers. I really liked William; he wasn't in this book nearly enough. Why couldn't William have made more of an appearance?! The romance between him and Nancy was very sweet, believable, and heartfelt. And since William wasn't in the book much, it didn't get in the way of the adventure even a little bit. But it also suffered from not being there enough. I wanted to become emotionally invested in the romance, but I couldn't.

Plot: Nancy Kington has always longed for adventure. But when her father remarries, Nancy is forced to abandon her wild childhood and become a reluctant lady. Then Nancy's father dies shortly after the family fortune is ruined, leaving her a plantation in Jamaica. Her brothers send her there to live, the family fortune having been saved by a mysterious Brazilian plantation owner named Bartholome. Jamaica is hot and lonely, and Nancy is prepared for the sight of how cruelly plantation slaves are treated. She finds friendship in her house slave Minerva, but it's a friendship that might cost them both very dearly. When Nancy discovers that she's been promised in marriage to the Brazilian who got her family out of debt, she and Minerva are forced to flee - taking to the high seas aboard a pirate ship. Disguised as boys, they hope to find safe haven from Bartholome and a new life. But Bartholome seems to know where they are no matter where they go, and it's only a matter of time before he catches them. The plot is quite good; there's lots of foreboding in the beginning and the middle and at the end. Nancy and Minerva have many adventures with the pirates, and all the while there's the underlying plot of: will Bartholome catch them? It covers the span of several months, if not a year, and it's surprising how quickly the book reads.

Believability: So this book is historical fantasy. Why? As a wedding gift, Bartholome gives Nancy a magnificent ruby necklace, and it's hinted at very strongly that the necklace is cursed; that so long as Nancy has it, Bartholome will always be able to find her. Given that the synopsis says nothing about this necklace, it comes as a bit of surprise, when this book is, in every other regard, surprisingly historically accurate. I didn't mind the touch of magic and the fantastical too much. It blended very well with the Jamaican and sailor superstitions. Historical-wise, the Authors pirates aren't too aggravatingly piratey. They are a very decent sort, true enough, but they also get some rotten apples eventually that cause trouble. There have been, in history, a couple of pirates who were actually pretty fair and who fought with honor, so it's not impossible. The Articles the pirates have, too, are more plausible. There was no "general code" they all had; they had ship's articles, just like any other ship, and I can accept that as being believable. Even pirate ships couldn't just run amok. That's not how ships work. Truly, my only real complaint is how the pirates turned their noses up at cargoes of spices. Spices were as good as gold.

Writing Style: First person, past tense. Nancy narrates as if she is writing her tale down at some later point in her life. I've said this before, and I'll say it again - I love it when first person narrations are done like this. It lends believability and character to the narration. It's how first person should be done. The style itself is rather good! It fit the era and had a nice rhythm to it.

Content: 1 s-word. Minerva is almost raped, but there's no details (the guy doesn't even get his trousers off). Nancy, too, is accosted at one point; the sailor only manages to pop some of her shirt buttons before someone else interferes.

Conclusion: I would have liked the showdown between Nancy and Bartholome to be a bit longer. It was there, then it was over. It is very interesting how one's opinion of a book can change as one gets older. When I first read Pirates!, I didn't know anything about historical fantasy. And since the synopsis said nothing about the cursed ruby necklace, I thought I was delving into another historical fiction novel about pirates. It came as a nasty surprise to find magic in my book during a time in my life when I abhorred anything resembling fantasy (unless it was traditional fairy tales and myths). This was also the first book I read that had some rather racy moments. I'm really glad I re-read it, now that I have an affection for historical fantasy, because I enjoyed it a lot more this time through. The characters are good, I loved the writing style, and the hints of magic and superstition. It was a rollicking good adventure.

Recommended Audience: Girl-and-guy read, sixteen-and-up, fans of historical fantasy and pirates!


  1. I've had a copy of Pirates in my collection for years after I bought a four Celia Rees book pack from The Book People, I've only ever read one of the books but it wasn't this one. This is the one book I was really unsure of..... feeling a bit better about it now though so thanks!

    Thea @ Gizzimomo's Book Shelf

    1. I'm not sure how it will live up to Celia Rees's other books, as this is the only one of hers that I've read. But it's pretty fun.

  2. what is the tone and mood?

  3. sorry i didnt mean to put anonymous

    1. Hi, Kenya! Sorry, I'm not sure I entirely understand your question (and sorry for taking so long to reply!). Do you mean: is the tone of the story dark or lighthearted?


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