Book Review: Pirate Lattitudes (Michael Crichton)

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“A fun read, but not his best.” – me, post-book

TL;DR – Most of the story was really good, and with a few small changes could have been amazing. Still recommended.



Why I read it…

My brother recommended this to me. We are both big fans of pirates (both fact and fiction), always have been. He listened to the audio book and couldn’t recommend it highly enough – “A Book recommended by a friend/family” was a category in my reading challenge conveniently too. Also I like Crichton’s work, so I thought it had a lot going for it.

The Story…

Port Royal is either a paradise or a scum hole, depending on your outlook. One of the few English colonies in the midst of Spanish territories, it’s economy relies on the work of privateers – sort of ‘legal’ pirates – to bring home the bacon.

Captain Hunter is one such Privateer. Hunter, and a band of picked men set out upon a dangerous quest – to raid the stronghold of Matanceros and make off with a Spanish treasure ship. Only one crew ever attempted a raid on Matanceros, and only one man returned! The risk is great – many would call it suicide – but the reward is greater…

Meanwhile, Robert Hacklett, a devious and ambitious young man, seeks to clean up the streets of Port Royal and make it a respectable town, with disastrous results.

Please note: This book was apparently found as a full manuscript and published post-posthumously, so it is difficult to gauge how polished and finished it really is.

What I liked…

I freely admit that anything to do with pirates is likely to land more favourably with me than most other themes – I really love pirates. The book didn’t disappoint in that regard. Crichton adds lots of little details, such as pirate superstitions, codes and rules and explanations about how a ship was organised and run – this really helps flesh out the world and make it interesting and engaging. It’s not so heavy on details that it would be boring for people who weren’t that interested, but it has enough to keep pirate fans happy.

I liked the plot for the most part. The daring raid, the sea battles and the political machinations of Hacklett all mixed together to make an exciting narrative. I was really hooked into the story within a few chapters, and my interest was maintained the whole way through.

I like the fact that Crichton has written his pirate world with a leaning towards reality. The pirates are presented in all their ugly glory – violent, scheming and often unpleasant. That said, the characters are not so made to be so abhorrent that you find yourself unable to root for them entirely.

There is some diversity among the characters which is probably closer to the reality of a pirate crew than the usual white-washed crews we are usually exposed to. This is both a strength and a significant issue, but more on that in a minute.

What I disliked…

I struggled to give this book a rating at first – and I admit I’m still not 100% sure I got it right. 3.5 buttons seems to suggest the book was terrible, which it most definitely wasn’t. It did, however, have a few things that really got to me and ultimately caused me to slash the rating quite drastically.

Trigger Warning – R*pe mention, racist content

As I said above, the pirates in this book are not presented as the dashing heroes we often find in movies – they are unpleasant and at least fairly close to what you would expect form actually pirates. In fact it’s not just the pirates – everyone in this book is pretty unpleasant. As such, it’s not hugely surprising that pirates (and anybody else apparently) might not be above a bit of rape. You definitely could write a pirate story where nobody gets raped, but that probably wouldn’t be considered ‘gritty’ enough.

The rape thing, which to my best recollection comes up three, maybe four times is unpleasant and seems unnecessary – even if it is realistic. That said, I’m no stranger to unpleasant material in books and it wouldn’t kick a whole button and a half of the rating on its own. No, the real kicker in this was the fact that for reasons known only to himself, Crichton went to great pains to point out that the most raped person in the book is a child of 14 or 15. What’s worse is the fact that he presents it as totally consensual…and I know, ‘sign of the times’ and all that but there was literally no reason what-so-ever for his to keep mentioning that this girl was a child. The characters acknowledge she is a child, and even call her a child. It’s super skeevy and massively unpleasant to read. I’m not trying to suggest that the rape of an adult is somehow better or more acceptable, but I can’t think of a way to end this sentence.

Moving away from that and onto some of the characters. I said earlier that the crew had some diversity. I also said this was a problem. There are two characters I have in mind specifically.

  1. Don Diego a.k.a. Black Eye a.k.a. the Jew
  2. Bassa a.k.a. The Moor

Don Diego, got his nickname for being Jewish. Bassa, we are told, somehow ended up with the nickname, despite “not beeing Moorish” (I believe the book says he is Nubian, but don’t quote me on it), and nobody knows how he ended up with it – well it’s obvious how he got it, someone saw a black man and called him a Moor.

Thing is, I understand why he mentions the nicknames – they might be unpleasant but it does flesh out the characters slightly and it’s believable. Unnecessary, but believable. This was made more annoying in the epilogue by suggesting that the characters were real people – which would have explained why you would mention these nicknames in the first place, but it turns out they are all fiction.

A big problem is the fact that despite giving these characters actual human names, he keeps referring to them by these racial epithets. It’s not even when the characters speak. The characters called Don Diego Don Diego. Crichton as narrator calls him ‘the Jew’. It is massively jarring because there doesn’t seem to be any reason for it. Sometimes he even uses both the name and the racial epithet at the same time – it’s just mindless. So points lost for that.

Triggers end.

Finally, there are a couple of appearances of the Kraken. Don’t get me wrong, I like the Kraken. The Kraken is cool. But it just seemed out of place. The book felt realistic – like real life, and I enjoyed that. The first time it appears, you could have assumed it was a whale or something as it appeared briefly and had ‘a suspicion of tentacles’ or some such. The second time it was glowing green and attacked the ship, but it came right out of left field and through a random element of fantasy into what had previously been a gritty, realistic pirate story. It was just weird.

Final thoughts…

I liked the story. I wanted to love it.

As noted above, this book was printed posthumously and discovered as a ‘complete manuscript’. Perhaps Crichton intended to work on it some more – there are a couple of places where the transition between elements is a bit janky, and it feels unfinished at times. That said, you can hardly blame the man for unfortunately dying before publication so I wasn’t about to dock points for it.

It does seem unlikely, however, that the issues I highlighted above would have been removed had the book been published within Crichton’s lifetime.

I would recommend this book to anyone who likes gritty historical fiction. If you don’t like grit and realism to the point of fault, don’t bother with it.

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!

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!