Most helpful critical review
on 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.