Monday, April 18, 2011

Time Travelling Pirates

Two recent books involved a teenager being mysteriously transported to the Golden Age of Pirates and becoming a pirate.

The first one, Pirate Freedom by Gene Wolfe is the better of the two. In it, a young American named Christopher leaves a monastery in post-Castro Cuba and finds himself in the 17th century. He signs on as a sailor, eventually becoming a pirate and working his way up to captain. The mechanics of time travel are never explained, they just happen. The book is very well researched, even if Christopher manages to attract more pirate women than Calico Jack (who had the only two known). The plot covers all aspects of piracy, even the cow killers. It has a couple of sub-plots that only become obvious over time. It is a good read.

The new one, Steel by Carrie Vaughn, just came out. In it, a 16-year-old girl named Jill goes on vacation to the Caribbean after a major fencing match. Jill finds the broken tip of a magic rapier and is transported back in time to the Golden Age of Pirates. She end up on a ship commanded by a woman pirate who is the arch enemy of the pirate who owns the rapier.

The book is ok and probably aimed at teenagers although Vaughn is best known for a series of books aimed at adults about a werewolf named Kitty. The book is a quick read and feels 50-100 pages too short. It has several missed opportunities leaving me wondering if Vaughn was trying to get it onto the stands before Pirates 4 comes out.

Vaughn went to some effort to research her pirates but I do have some complaints. The first one is central to the story - the use of rapiers. I am sure that she used rapiers because they have the closest modern equivalent, the epee. The modern foil and saber are so much lighter than their historic counterparts that the skills needed are completely different between them. The problem is that rapiers were weapons for private duels and nearly useless on a ship in a crowd.

My other complaint is Vaughn's use of women. Jill's captain is a woman and the book says that other members of the crew were also women but dressed like men. None of them are given names or personalities.

While Vaughn tries to present her pirates as historically accurate, they are not very effective. They spend very little time in actual piracy and they set free the slaves that they capture. Note that I have the same complaint about the Disney movies - the pirates spend very little time engaging in acts of piracy.

While the book could stand a rewrite, it is still worth reading as is.

No comments: