Celia Rees is a popular writer of young adult fiction. Her focus is on history and magic.
Age: Young Adult
First Published: 2003
Date Reviewed: 6th August 2009
Pirates! isn’t as well known as it’s predecessor, Witchchild, in fact it’s likely that unless one is a dedicated fan of Rees they won’t know of it at all. As for myself I found it at random in a bookstore.
Nancy Kington lives in England in the time that Africans were taken as slaves and whites took over the Caribbean for their own selfish interests. When her father dies she is shipped to Jamaica where her brothers plan to marry her off in order to make money from a good alliance. When Nancy meets the man whom she is to marry she takes an immediate disliking to him, his villainous ways and middle age causing her to fear for her life. Help comes in the form of her befriended slave Minerva who, along with others, ensures Nancy’s safe passage to the outlaw camp. There she and Minerva make the decision to join the pirate ship that is on its way to the harbour. But in her dreams Nancy can see her betrothed on her trail. She must continue onwards while ever widening the gap between her and the young man whose ring she wears about her neck.
The story is told in the first person with Nancy narrating her and Minerva’s lives. This is akin to the method used in Witchchild that Rees is very adept at. Nancy begins by informing us, her readers, that she is writing her memoirs for an author of piratical books and then goes on to give us a history of how she came to be a pirate. This prologue, if you will, is rather long, stretching to about a third of the book, which is a disappointing surprise for a book named “Pirates!” In itself it means that an otherwise interesting story of the life of two women in the new world is a drag to get through as you wade through the pages hoping she’ll hurry up and board a ship.
The romantic sub plot is endearing and one of the major reasons to keep reading when the main narrative runs dry. Nancy promised herself to her childhood sweetheart, William, before her father died, but although they meet again a couple of times in the book it seems their lives will drive ever more apart. The book makes no promises of it’s own, you will not witness their marriage at the end and nor will their story tie up in the way that you’d like it to, but this becomes unimportant; the telling of the story is such that to give it a climatic ending would have cast any previous success out to walk the plank.
In some ways the mundaneness of the story is ripe. It echoes the boredom of endless days at sea. The problem is that you don’t really want that in a story, and in a pirate tale especially you want adventure. The character Rees created has a story to tell, no doubt about it, but it’s in the same category as those who wouldn’t make it into the history books for lack of interesting accounts. The idea of her betrothed pirate following her isn’t given nearly enough excitement and backing as it should and thus becomes just another addition. This means that when the man finally does catch Nancy one could care less, even if it is her fear realised.
The major flaw in this book is Nancy. She’s above most other girls of her status in that she condemns the treatment of the Africans and is more intelligent than most but still she is a weakling when compared to Minerva – who is far more interesting. In truth Minerva is the real heroine and Nancy simply serves as her biographer as without her Nancy would lose her readers within the first quarter of the book. This being her purpose it’s a pity Minerva isn’t given more time and is too often relegated to being Nancy’s saviour.
This brings us to the final flaw. Nancy gets captured, Minerva saves her, Minerva gets captured, Nancy saves her. It’s a poignant display of sisterhood but overkill, to make use of an accidental pun. They live for each other, we know that, it doesn’t need to be repeated in everything that happens. Nor do the situations the girls find themselves in need to be so obviously explained. If sex is too adult to be included then so too should the possibilities of rape be excluded.
Youth fiction should be adventurous, full of excitement, and heavy with adrenalin. Children need to make good use of their imagination; a dull book will count for nothing. This in consideration I cannot recommend Pirates! for young readers but only to those old enough to be prepared to lend their time in finishing it. It’s nice, but truly no match for Rees’s previous efforts.