Ah, the dilemma of the book review … when I hate it, I have SO MUCH to say, but when I love it, all I want to do is poke cloves in an orange in the shape of a heart and send it to the author by overnight mail.
The Pirates! In an Adventure with the Romantics is the fourth book of a series by Gideon Defoe. I have now read three of the four, and I can’t even contemplate reading the last one (Napoleon, if you’re wondering) without a cold clammy hand of dread clutching at my heart. Because then what would I have to look forward to?
If you’re not familiar with the series, it is best characterized as extremely silly. The protagonist is the Pirate Captain, who is vain and likes ham, and is not much of a pirate or captain. His crew is made up of semi-anonymous pirates called things like “the pirate in red” and “the pirate with gout” and “the pirate with bedroom eyes” — and the lone lady-pirate,”Jennifer.”
This book opens with the pirates applying for a bank loan, and there is a table enumerating things that the Pirate Captain would like to be compared to on the third page. For example, he’d prefer to be compared to an infestation of killer bees over a luxuriantly bearded conch or a whelk with a pleasant, open face. The Captain points out that “unlike whelks – which use a large muscular foot to pin down their lobster prey – he had two large muscular feet,” but the crew is unmoved.
The Pirates don’t get their bank loan (erm, spoiler) but they do find a source of funding — they will take Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and Shelley’s fiancee Mary Godwin on an adventure for pay. The challenge is, the pirates have no particular adventure on tap, so they have to figure out how to manufacture one. Byron gets to say a lot of things in a booming voice and pose dramatically and act vampirical, and Mary is enthralled with her own creation of a monster who’s half-man, half-seaweed — and actually in a somewhat-welcome inversion of the usual, Shelley doesn’t have a ton to do other than be Mary’s fiance, but the other two show up nicely and get to have a lot of fun. On the pirate side, the Pirate Captain develops a crush on Mary and the book does a FANTASTIC job of keeping him entirely ridiculous and in-character, AND having Mary be pretty ridiculous herself. Jennifer also has a more featured role in this one, and again I super appreciate that she is a lady who is a pirate and like, a competent one but also not an outlier badass or a special pedestal-dweller or a love interest. It’s a flavor of representation I appreciate in a male-dominated book/series/period/setting.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to buy an orange.