Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Local History & More Piracy!

I live near Hornsby Bend in Travis county (that’s Texas y’all). It’s an area of farmland that is swiftly turning into tract housing and a bypass highway. It’s perhaps not surprising that people might assume that there is no history behind an area like this. It was a cow pasture, now it’s brick-faced, ranch style homes starting in the $80s.

But every place has its story. It turns out the Hornsby area has quite a few old stories, if you know where to look. Here’s an interesting website that I came across today. It has all kinds of history tidbits about Rueben Hornsby, the first settler to move into this part of Travis County back in the 1830s.

Back to reviews of pirate books!

By James L. Nelson

It seems that you can’t toss a brick these days without hitting some kind of pirate reference (especially in children’s books and tv), except in the world of fiction. James L. Nelson set out to change that with his “Brethren of the Coast” series.

The Blackbirder is actually the second novel in the set (The Guardship was first and The Pirate Round is the third). The protagonist is Thomas Marlowe, a reformed pirate turned merchant captain and Virginia planter. Marlowe has freed his slaves, an act that has aroused the hostility of his slave-owning neighbors. When one of Marlowe’s freedmen kills the captain of a slave ship and then heads out to sea, Marlowe must hunt the man down or see his own future blighted. Action at sea and intrigue on land ensues.

This is a decent action novel, but not top drawer. Nelson isn’t Rafael Sabatini. He makes some desultory efforts to use 18th century speech, though mostly he uses neutral 20th century American English. Nelson's descriptions of slave ships are gruesomely true to life. His observations on pirates and their ways sometimes seems heavy-handed, but reasonably accurate: they were admirably freedom-loving, but brutal in their disregard of the lives and property of others.

There are a lot of characters and subplots in this novel, and some of it works better than other parts. Marlowe is a good hard-boiled character, as is Madshaka, an escaped slave with some interesting plans of his own. I really wished the novel spent more time with Marlowe. Too much of the plot seems contrived, the admirable freed slave just happens to kill a scummy slaver captain. The bigoted neighbor just happens to have a dark secret. A pirate ally just happens to show up to help Marlowe’s wife save the day for the freed slaves, etc…

While I don’t want to sound too negative about The Blackbirder, it just didn’t grab me as strongly as other pirate yarns. The strong points for the novel are lots of action, some good characters, and an interesting look at race relations in the 18th century.
-Dave Hardy

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