Pirates! Magic! Zombies! It even has an engraving of Blackbeard on the cover!

Publication year: 1988
Page count: 370
Format: print, 2006 paperback
Publisher: Babbage Press

The prologue follows Benjamin Hurwood when he tries to get in touch with Margaret’s spirit. For the first time. He fails but now he knows that magic is real and he concocts a plan.

Then we’re introduced to the main character of the story, John Chandagnac, who’s on his way to the new world. His father was a puppeteer who died penniless and puppeteering was John’s profession as well because he was his father’s apprentice. Recently, John found out that he has an uncle who cheated his father and himself out of their inheritance. So, John is sailing to confront his villainous uncle. However, before they reach their destination, pirates attack. The large ship could have fended off the pirate sloop but two men betrayed them: Hurwood and Friend. Former Oxford don Benjamin Hurwood has kept his own company pretty much the whole journey and he’s also kept his daughter Beth away from the others, too. The Hurwoods travel with Friend who is extremely fat and poses as a doctor. They have made a deal with the pirate Philip Davies beforehand.

John tries to stop the pirates and is forcibly drafted. His puppeteering skills amuse the pirates, and he’s declared the cook and renamed Jack Shandy. Soon he finds out that magic is real and the pirates are using it to their advantage. The famous captain Blackbeard himself raises zombies as his crew and commands spirits. John struggles to accept his new life as a pirate and he also has a hard time accepting that magic is real. However, he doesn’t really have a choice. Then he finds out that both Friend and Hurwood are powerful sorcerers, and have a horrible fate planned for Beth.

There are lots of magical or even surreal moments in the book: Hurwood, and other characters, have vivid hallucinations about their past, sunken ships resurrected and crewed by the dead, and of course the magical duels!

Magic works in the old world. Cold iron kills magic so it doesn’t work in the lands where iron is commonly used. Black men are the most powerful sorcerers in this world; they can command the loa spirits to do their bidding and use them to protect themselves and others. The pirates wear magical items that they call Mate-Care-For that protects them and heals them if they are wounded. Many of the pirates can also cast offensive spells by calling on the loas.

Edward Teach, better known as Blackbeard, is a significant character. He’s even a POV character later in the book. He’s said to be the most powerful sorcerer that a white man can be and he does have very ambitious plans. We get to see some of his most memorable moments in the book. Anne Bonny and her husband make a very unflattering cameos. John sails under Philip Davies and even befriends him.

The pirates aren’t hugely romanticized; they are colorful, selfish, lazy, and cowardly lot. The pirate island is run almost as an anarchy and Blackbeard leads the pirates because they are afraid of him.

Pretty much the only thing that didn’t work for me was the romance which seem a bit tacked on. I didn’t really understand John’s obsession with Beth. Maybe it was because she was almost literally the only woman on the pirate island. Oh, Anne made an appearance, and prostitutes and even female pirates (who, sadly, were just mentioned and never seen again) were mentioned but the only woman John talked to was Beth. Disappointingly, Beth is just a puppet in the schemes of the men around her. She plans to escape at one point but ends up being kidnapped and/or drugged for most of the book.

I really need to read more Powers.