Series Review: The Pirates! In an Adventure with… (Gideon Defoe)

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“Not since Moby-Dick… No, not since Treasure Island… Actually, not since Jonah and the Whale has there been a sea saga to rival The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists…” ~Goodreads

TL;DR – If you like light reading, humour and pirates, give this series a try.


Series details…

Released: 2004-2012.

“The Pirates…” series is made up of 5 books; The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists (2004); The Pirates! In an Adventure with Whaling (2005); The Pirates! In an Adventure with Communists (2006); The Pirates! In an Adventure with Napoleon (2008); The Pirates! In an Adventure with Romantics (2012).

The story…

“The Pirates!…” books focus on the tales of a typical pirate crew, and their fearless and ruthless captain; The Pirate Captain! With his pleasant open face, stentorian nose and luxuriant beard, the Pirate Captain leads his fearless – and only slightly inept – crew on a series of adventures throughout the globe.

The books contain a host of lovable heroes and contemptible villains, from Number 2 (the only competent pirate on the boat), to the dastardly Black Bellamy (Pirate Captains Arch Enemy / Long Standing Friend) to the cynical, realistic (and therefore much loathed) Pirate in Red.

The Stories all follow a similar format; The Pirate Captain and his crew are bobbing along through the high seas, with no particular aims or goals in mind – they just like being at sea. (Never before has a single group of people more fully embodied that fine old hymn “Yo ho; Yo ho; A pirate’s life for me”.) The crew find themselves embattled in important philosophical debates – such as the best way to cook a ham – when the Pirate Captain himself enters majestically, and settles the matter once and for all, with an observation so wise and logical, you are left wondering why you never realised it before! Then – usually due to the Pirate Captain’s boredom or generalised moping, the crew set off on a wild adventure, featuring a host of famous figures from history. For example:

The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists (2004) – In an attempt to score some major treasure, the Pirates attack a vessel belonging to the Bank of England, transporting oodles of gold and treasures to wherever it is the Bank of England hordes it’s treasures. Unfortunately for the the Pirate Captain, this vessel contains less gold and more brilliant naturalists, in the form of Charles Darwin. Never one to back away from a challenge, The Pirate Captain concocts a scheme to use Darwin to make a fortune in London – leading to an exciting (and utterly bizarre) mystery that only the Pirates can solve.

The Pirates! In an Adventure with Napoleon (2008) sees a depressed Pirate Captain give up the salty world of professional pirating, to follow his life-long (read: half-hour long) dream of being a bee-keeper. He buys an island – which the brochure says is ideal for bee-keeping –  from the devilish Black Bellamy, and (much to the misery of the crew) set’s sail for his new Island – Corsica. Shortly after arriving, a new resident arrives – none other the Napoleon Bonaparte, freshly exiled. The Pirate Captain and Napoleon hit it off badly – two powerful personalities on a small, raggedy island (that is useless for keeping bees on) constantly at each others throats. The pair set about proving once-and-for-all who is the better man, with hilarious results!

Why did I read them…

My first exposure to this series came from the movie adaption – The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists (Movie – 2012) – which remains one of my Top 5 movies of all time. After watching it a few times and looking on the ‘net, I discovered the books and bought them all. The books did not disappoint.

Why I love them…

The main (and most non-specific) reason is because I enjoyed the books so much. “The Pirates!…” books are the only series I can think of that I have read 3 or more times. I enjoyed The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists (2004) so much that it is my go-to book for reading when I’m in a difficult head-space and need something to soothe and give a little spark of joy. It also holds the #1 spot in my Top 5 ‘light reading’ list.

Secondly, the characters. This series has characters I can really picture and enjoy (which was definitely helped by the movie adaption). I love the Pirate Captain most of all.

The Pirate Captain stands out for me because of the way his character reacts to the world around him. He is a Pirate because he loves the idea of being a pirate. He loves the treasure, and the pirate boat and the running people through. He loves the tattoos and the shanties and the roaring. He is married to the sea and is mostly faithful to it. He loves pirating – he just isn’t very good at it.

For starters, he’s really bad with names (so relatable) so he uses descriptions instead – The Pirate in Green, The Albino Pirate, The Pirate Who Likes Kittens And Sunsets. He also doesn’t know how nautical instruments work; be it an astrolabe or an honest-to-goodness map, the Pirate Captain doesn’t know how to use it properly. But he tries his best, and goes out of his way to make it sound like he knows exactly whats going on – even, and indeed especially, when he has absolutely no clue. The Pirate Crew love him in spite – or perhaps because – of this (except the Pirate in Red who tried to undermine the Pirate Captain whenever he can).

The Pirate Captain is not a man with a plan. He prefers to get an outline (catch the white whale) and fill in the details later. This leads to a series of amusing, over-the-top and mostly ineffective schemes as part of a totally bizarre and wonderful adventure.

Things usually work themselves out in the end, in one way or another, and you never stop rooting for the magnificent Pirate Captain and his rag-tag crew of lovable idiots.

Finally, the stories themselves. The plots are silly. The writing is silly. The characters and situations and footnotes are silly – and that is fantastic. These books don’t take themselves seriously – there’s no worrying about realism or historical accuracy or on occasions, common sense. It’s just fun. Fun for adults, and fun teens, fun for all!

Recommended for…

Most ages: Certainly fun for adults and older children. (Probably find for younger children but use your own judgement).

For readers of: Terry Pratchett, Douglas Adams etc. Similar sort of humour and writing. I personally rank my Top 3 ‘humour’ series as #1 Discworld (Pratchett), #2 The Pirates!… (Defoe), #3 The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy (Adams).

Final thoughts…

The Pirates! series is equal parts funny, weird and wonderful. With situations and characters that are easy to love. They are written in a humorous and easy-to read way (complete with interesting and amusing foot-notes).

The stories are short, and sweet and funny. You really can’t ask for more.

Please note: I am in no way affiliated with the author or publishers. I bought this book with my own money for my own reasons. The opinions contained within are my own and have not been influenced by any external entity!

Book Review: Ella Minnow Pea: A Novel in Letters (Mark Dunn)

Goodreads Link

“Inventive and impressive … as politically engaging as it is fun.” ~ Big Issue

TL;DR – This book is a strange little treasure. A must read for lovers of words.


Why I read it…

I honestly have no idea how I came to own this book – I just remember one day I didn’t own it, the next day I did. I assume tumblr had something to do with it. I assume that I read about how unique it was somewhere and thought I’d give it a shot.

Also, it was a the “A book I by an author I haven’t read” category for my reading challenge.

The Story…

Off the coast of America is an Island called Nollop. Named for the revered Nevin Nollop (deceased), creator of the pangram “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.”

Nollop is not an advanced nation – it’s not even keeping up with the rest of the world. But what Nollop lacks in technological advancement, it’s makes up for with the adoration of language. The Nollopian’s adore words – especially Ella. They adore words, and they idolise the aforementioned Nevin Nollop. A monument to his linguistic prowess stands proud for all to see – tiles with individual letters spelling out the famous pangram.

One day, a tile falls from the monument – the letter Z. The governing body of Nollop – being so fanatically devoted – declare the falling of the tile to represent an instruction from Nollop himself! The message is interpreted to mean the Nollopians should never used the letter again. Not in speech, not in writing…and those who break this divine law are severely punished.

The book is written as a series of letters from various Nollopians. As more tiles fall from the aging monument, the Nollopians are forced to abandon the variety of words they adore so much, until they can take no more…

What I liked…

The book itself is an example – albeit a very strange one – of totalitarian government, fanatical religious leadership and censorship. As the letters fall from the monument, so too are they removed from the book. Dunn writes very cleverly, managing to keep as much variety and love of language in each letter, despite the every increasing pressure caused by the rapidly decrease pool of usable letters. It is clever, not just because it is a physically difficult task, but also because Dunn manages to express so much emotion in so many ways, and when Ella’s heart breaks, my heart broke too.

The format itself, a series of somewhat connected letters, is a very novel and highly effective form of delivery. It was not just a gimmick – it brought the story to life. It took me a little while to get my head around it, and might have been irritating if the story wasn’t so engaging.

Finally, I loved the variety of ‘authors’ for the letters. The letters are written by many different characters; all with different views and ways of dealing with an incredibly difficult situation. Perhaps one of the most difficult, but most rewarding things about this book is that you find yourself questioning which of the characters approaches you think you would follow if you were in their place. Questions like this are what usually make books about totalitarianism very difficult, and often soul crushing to read – but the admittedly bizarre situation allows you to consider these ethical dilemmas, something which I find really important.

What I disliked…

Nothing. I loved it.

Final thoughts…

This book seems really strange. The premise is strange, the way it uses an ever decreasing pool of letters is strange. The use of letters instead of ‘normal’ prose is weird. BUT it is beautiful. It is challenging. It is insightful. It is art.

This book may be better suited to those with an appreciation for linguistic acrobatics, and the art of words, rather than the casual reader – but I would still encourage the casual reader to try it and see. It’s more than worth the effort.

Please note: I am in no way affiliated with the author or publishers. I bought this book with my own money for my own reasons. The opinions contained within are my own and have not been influenced by any external entity!