The Blackbirder Hardcover – Mar 2001
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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.
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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Top Customer Reviews
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.
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.
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.
Most recent customer reviews
the main story is good except HE HAS TO INSERT the fifthy languaqe in the book.Published on April 2 2004 by Brian E. Macleod
Like all of Nelson's books that I have read, this one is fast-moving and historically accurate, but for some reason the characters and the plot grabbed me even more this time. Read morePublished on May 1 2001 by Bill
This is not nearly as tightly written as Nelson's previous books. It had the feel of Julian Stockwin's new release,interesting, but doesn't stay on subject. Read morePublished on April 23 2001 by SGLENN KROCHMAL