The first third or so of this book was a slog. Nelson writes nicely, particularly when capturing the experience of dying in the midst of a battle, as he does brilliantly, in the book's prologue. I was also taken with his introduction of the book's protagonist, Thomas Marlowe, Virginia planter and former pirate, in the opening sequence of the first chapter. But from there the tale degenerated for me as we follow Marlowe and his lady love and assorted hangers on as they try to cobble together a voyage to sell their tobacco in advance of all others into the English market. The building of a crew and the relationship between Marlowe and Elizabeth, his wife, is rather predictable with Elizabeth being shown as an atypically feisty but loving woman, as capable as her man in business as in the use of salty language, but devoted to him. Very much a nod, I think, to our modern sensibility which demands that our female characters be strong and aggressive in their own right. But not at all likely to have been consistent with the period. Nor, as another here has noted, is it likely that Marlowe would have taken her along with him on a ship bound for the high seas and, in all probability, a stint of dangerous pirating. Yes, there were some female pirates, anomalies to be sure, but Marlowe, if he were worth his salt, would have been unlikely to drag his beloved wife along on such a trip, even if she demanded it of him.
Marlowe, who has freed and re-hired his plantation slaves (others here have commented on the peculiarity of THAT for this time period, so I won't say more) collects a crew, half of them freed slaves from his plantation and half local seamen, and takes off with his and his neighbors' tobacco, and his lovely wife Elizabeth, to England. There things finally get a bit hairy and he is almost hanged by an old enemy. Escaping down the Thames in the dark of night, Marlowe and his crew soon find their way to a pirate haven on a small island off the coast of Madagascar and at last the tale begins to gather steam.
Though Marlowe seems a little too introspective and sensitive a soul for the kind of man he is said to be, and very much an indecisive fellow, reacting to events as much as leading them, and a bit of a dunderhead for walking into a pirate's lair with his wife at his side, still he comes across as sufficiently sympathetic to be worth worrying about. I read the last half of the book with gusto as the characters, Marlowe included, started to become a might more interesting, especially the little pirate, Lord Yancy. Though something of a caricature, as with the rest of these pirate fellows, he was at least an interesting one.
True, the tale continued to have a certain unfortunate predictability about it and the characters were largely stock or mere shadows, never coming fully to life or engaging enough to care about. But the action picks up and is nicely drawn. Though I grew a little tired of the extensive descriptions of shipboard activities and the reliance on the technical jargon of ships, I have to admit that Nelson turns a nice phrase and keeps the pacing well in hand.
Because of the taut and engrossing second half, I upped the stars in the amazon rating system for this review by one. The book proved a good read in the end and one worth the time of anyone who likes a good adventure tale. But you'll have to hang in there until the tale gets its sea legs.