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The Blackbirder [Hardcover]

James L. Nelson
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Feb. 8 2001 Brethren of the Coast (Book 2)

In the wake of The Guardship comes the second in the Brethren of the Coast trilogy and the swash-buckling adventures of former pirate Thomas Marlowe.

In a blind rage, King James, ex-slave and now Marlowe's comrade in arms, slaughters the crew of a slave ship and makes himself the most wanted man in Virginia. The governor gives Marlowe a choice: Hunt James down and bring him back to hang or lose everything Marlowe has built for himself and his wife, Elizabeth.

Marlowe sets out in pursuit of the ex-slave turned pirate, struggling to maintain control over his crew -- rough privateers who care only for plunder -- and following James's trail of destruction. But Marlowe is not James's only threat, as factions aboard James's own ship vie for control and betrayal stalks him to the shores of Africa.

And it is in Africa, in the slave port of Whydah, that James and Marlowe must face a common threat and their own final showdown.

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From Publishers Weekly

The lead characters of Nelson's The Guardship are back in this intelligent tale of high seas adventure: landowner and swashbuckling former seaman Thomas Marlowe; his wife, Elizabeth; and his friend, former tutor Francis Bickerstaff. Though Marlowe is but recently settled in 1702 Tidewater Virginia, he has already won the enmity of many colonistsAand particularly Frederick Dunmore, a Bostonian of murky originsAby freeing his slaves. As the novel opens, Marlowe is planning to set out to sea. Once he is granted an official letter of marque, he will be able to legally plunder merchant ships hailing from countries hostile to England in Europe's monarchical wars. But then King James, Marlowe's chief freedman and good friend, kills a slave ship's captain in a brawl, and flees for Africa in the slave ship itself, the eponymous Blackbirder. Dunmore forces the royal governor to withhold Marlowe's letter of marque until he's captured King James, and so Marlowe and Bickerstaff give chase, dreading the inevitable encounter with their friend. A fair amount of high seas action leads to a scene of final bloody treachery in Africa. Almost everybody here has a secret: Marlowe, formerly Malachias Barrett, is an ex-pirate; Elizabeth was once a London prostitute; Dunmore is haunted by what may be murder; King James is shadowed by a sinister ex-slave. Though a few anachronisms slip in (Marlowe "hadn't a clue what was going on"), the period atmosphere is a bit thin and a couple of events strain credibility (with six shots Elizabeth kills six men), on the whole this is a creditable adventure tale, deepened by Nelson's unusually detailed and nuanced account of the slave trade. (Mar. 1) Forecast: Darker, less polished and more contemporary in tone than Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey/Maturin series, Marlowe's adventures will either strike O'Brian fans as rough stuff or refreshing fare. But even wary traditionalists may be won over by this superior installment.
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

Nelson has penned another swashbuckling adventure featuring pirate-turned-privateer Thomas Marlowe. When Marlowe's second-in-command, former slave King James, kills the abusive captain of a crippled slave ship, the governor of Virginia orders Thomas to hunt down his renegade friend. Threatened with financial and social ruin, he embarks upon a bleak odyssey that takes him from the shores of the New World to the west coast of Africa. Eventually coming face-to-face, Thomas and James both realize that they must confront the demons and the enemies that continue to stalk them. This action-packed, authentically detailed sea yarn is distinguished by the sobering moral undertones of its electrifying plot. First-rate maritime fiction in the tradition of Patrick O'Brian. Margaret Flanagan
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Even better than 'The Guardship' May 23 2002
A premonition - and suddenly the comfortable world of Marlowe is turned on its head.
King James, the freed slave, slaughters the crew of a slave ship in a fit of passion, and to save face and reputation, Marlowe has to run him down and bring him to justice. Meanwhile, his sworn enemy is intent on destroying all that Marlowe holds dear ...
This sets the scene for another gripping tale in the same vein as 'The Guardship' - the same flowing prose and command of language endows this book with the mark of a master storyteller coming into his stride. Many threads, at sea and at home, combine to make this a thrilling, un-put-downable period story.
As the tale unfolds, we are taken into the minds of the protagonists, taking a glimpse behind the facade that each one has created, seeing the tale from several different perspectives, each with its own ideals and agenda, making us more and more involved in this wonderful complex story.
Even better than 'The Guardship' - and that's saying something. *****
Look out for 'The Pirate Round', book 3 in the series.
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3.0 out of 5 stars The Blackbirder March 27 2002
Nelson is developing his talents as an author of historical fiction. It's good to see a writer who actually improves as he goes along.
Indicative of this improvement is the amount of historical detail given in this book, the second in the Brethren of the Coast series. Largely about the slave trade, The Blackbirder reveals the depth of the author's research into African cultures of the period.
Ex-pirate Marlowe should by rights be a fascinating character, but he lacks depth -- not merely because he's a rather shallow person, which he is, but because Nelson hasn't developed him sufficiently. He has a certain blank quality. James, the other main character here, is better drawn, but still not quite exemplary. Secondary characters, such as Marlowe's wife and her rakish ally Billy, aren't bad, but aren't fantastic either -- I'd say overall that characterization is a bit of a weakness here, though not disastrously so.
The plot, as one expects with Nelson, is an exciting one -- I don't find the themes here as interesting as his battles-at-sea books, but other readers may well prefer them. I did find my suspension of disbelief faltering at one point, when a psychotic racist tries to imprison Marlowe's freed workers: either they're free, and he would have to have a warrant, or they're slaves, and he's stealing property, and either way, that element didn't quite work for me. Overall, though, the story is fast-paced, enjoyable and holds the reader's attention well.
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4.0 out of 5 stars On Par With Hornblower March 29 2004
(...). I have been reading the Horatio Hornblower Series and other books from this era. This book was different in that it dealt with other topics (i.e. slave trade, racism, sexism, etc.) in the context of the Napoleonic era. I thought that the characters were interesting, but I could not help thinking I would have enjoyed Blackbirder more had I read the first book in the series beforehand. Marlowe is a great character, but I think that the author did not spend enough time letting us get to know him in Blackbirder. The plot of this book was really interesting...I consider myself a "plot sniffer", but I did not have this one figured out until Nelson revealed it. Nice I wish I could find the first and third book of the series in the bargain area (doubtful).
I am very excited to find a good author in the genre. I would recommend to anyone reading O'Brien or Hornblower to check him out.
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5.0 out of 5 stars The best yet! April 14 2001
Once again, James L. Nelson shows that he not only is a master of the English language, but in the tradition of the sea, this old salt knows how to spin a yarn. This story starts out running and almost immediately splits into three different but parallel stories. They are masterfully progressed until, just short of the last page, they all come together in an explosive climax. Don't start this book if you have chores waiting. You won't be able to put it down until it is finished. This book has more action per page than any in recent memory.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Uncommon topic Jan. 12 2002
The quality of Nelson's writing improves measurably with every book. Here he balances a complicated three part plot masterfully right up to the inexorable end. He obviously has done extensive research on the historical and geographic details. While dealing with some strong subject matter he yet maintains a level that would be fully acceptable to a bright junior high school reader and certainly anyone older. I have come to regard these later works as on a par with Patrick O'B!
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