This is is the more famous of Powers’ work; the only other book of his I have read to date is The Anubis Gates. It isn’t difficult to see why this book inspired the Pirates of the Caribbean films (and of course the fourth film was based directly on this book) and the long-running Monkey Island series of video games. There are elements of both franchises here. Though the main character is not Guybrush Threepwood, I feel that there are similarities between the two characters so I had a lot of fun imagining him saying “I’m Jack Shandy, mighty pirate!”
John Chandagnac is aboard the deep water vessel “Vociferous Carmichael” and when it is attacked – apparently rather stupidly – by a pirate sloop, he expects the battle to be over quickly and the pirates being outgunned and outmanned, to come off worse. Nothing goes to plan for poor John though as the pirates win the battle, take the ship and give him a choice: become one of us or die.
Taking the suitably pirate-y name of “Jack Shandy” (Monkey Islandesque in my mind at least) he relucantly takes the non-choice offered to him, hoping to win their trust and make a break for it when the time is right. When that opportunity is presented following an interception by a British navy vessel, he ends up killing its commanding officer to save the life of the pirate Captain who hijacked “Vociferous Carmichael”. As a reward he is appointed second in command and will eventually become Captain in an adventure that will take him around the Caribbean and to a showdown with the legendary Blackbeard and featuring undead pirates, ghostly possessions and a search for the Fountain of Youth.
You can’t really go wrong with a premise like this and I’m pleased to say that he carries it off well. There are moments of humour, battles on the high seas, ship chases and enough of all of these things to entertain most readers. Being a fan of Monkey Island, I would have liked a bit more humour but I guess you cannot have it all. I particularly liked in this book and in The Anubis Gates how Powers fuses real people, actual events and the fantasy element. It works well and for me this has now become his signature.
However, I did find The Anubis Gates to be a far more engaging affair. This is despite that the majority of characters are just as vivid and interesting. No, the problem is that the plot tends to get a bit convoluted at times and it really should have been straightforward, sometimes I just wanted the pace to slow down a little, especially in the second half.
This is an enjoyable colonial-period romp that I can heartily recommend but no pirate life for me.