Author: Michael Crichton
By the shivering timbers of Davy Jones, this book is a blast!
Posthumously released after the unfortunate departure of Michael Crichton, this swashbuckler is loaded to the gunwhale with adventure, intrigue, memorable characters and thrills of almost every description you can conceive of when you think anything pirate- sea and sword battles, exotic locales, high risk situations, cannibalistic natives and last but certainly not least, A FRICKIN’ KRAKEN BATTLE! OH MY GOODNESS GRACIOUS ME!!!!
Set in 1665 during the Golden Age of piracy, Governor James Almont of Jamaica, a victim of unkind age and physical weakness decides to fund an expedition to the forbidden fortress islet of Mantaceros (don’t you just love that name?). Within the confines of this mysterious and dangerous place lays a Spanish galleon filled to the brim with untold riches. To succeed in such a venture of opportunity would mean Almont cementing his reputation as a man of means. But, in order to make this happen, Almont requires the services of a crew that is willing to brave life and limb to sail the oceans in search of this near mythic place. He finds his answer in the form of Charles Hunter, a privateer on paper and a pirate at heart WITH his crew of colourful sorts although Almont’s secretary Sir Robert Hacklett is far less enthused by the idea, having heard of Hunter’s coarser reputation.
Hunter assembles his forces, consisting of the following cast of characters:
Lazue- an eagle-eyed sharpshooter with superior eye sight and purveyor of a brilliant distraction strategy.
Bassa The Moor- a dark skinned danger of a beast who speaks naught but makes up for in lethalness.
Sanson- The brutish-looking but fey voiced assassin who Hunter can trust as far as he could throw him.
Enders- A barber-surgeon with a knack for building and crafting.
Don Diego aka The Jew- Like Enders, a man skilled with his hands, though in this case with firearm technology.
Together, this motley band of superior piracy set out to battle this quest that could lead them all to immortality against the villainous Spaniard pirate Cazalla who has a long-standing animosity with Hunter though neither man have met.
If I were to outline the things I excel most at, adoring the legend of piracy, the romance of it, is one of them. For something so innately ugly, there is some attraction to piracy that has always held me at gunpoint on the plank. Is it the concept of “sticking it to the man” that enamours me? Is it the promise of adventure and intertwining my life with souls who are different to me? Who knows. All I know is that it is a long-standing fantasy of mine, one that is not like to ever die, not matter how many times I am reminded by “Cuththroat Island” (which I actually happened to like when I was much younger… oh and Geena Davis is a divine being among humanity). When I watched the first “Pirates of the Carribean”, I was 10 years old once more, looking on in wonder at all the piratic goings on. Whilst experiencing “Pirate Latitudes”, I felt that very same sensation, only on a grander scale.
While a part of it appealed to my nostalgia, the other part of it appealed to the action adventure reader in me. I love to be amazed, I want to be in awe of the words I read on the page so my brain can turn them into moving pictures. This book did that in such a way I didn’t think possible and that is absolutely no exaggeration. This is beyond one of the best stories written in recent years, not just due to the imagination factor, but the fact Crichton researched every aspect of the elements he explored while composing it. We get insight into how people of the time worked, the society they lived in, what drove them to act, how they spoke, their motivations to do what they did. Even if the concept of piracy was based on greed, that greed had to spawn from someplace, and it is through Almont, Hunter et. al. that we gain insight. Despite the stylish concept of an all-star cast of pirate archetypes, Crichton never sells any of them short- they all are given the opportunity to shine on more than one occasion, they have memorable exchanges with each other and standout moments. They are all shining jewels in the crown.
By the way, I would be remiss if I did not mention that Charles Hunter has not become one of my favourite literary protagonists in recent memory. Crichton writes his lead as a reasonable man, well-read and well-versed in the puppet show of politics, but at the same time, he is not afraid to resort to acts of violence and intimidation to get what he desires. He’s not a BAD man, he is an individual who does what he feels must be done in order to achieve a goal. If he wants to be your ally, he will speak charmingly and shake your hand. If he considers you as a foe, he will shoot you in the heart and stab you in the back. What a stud.
It is not just Hunter and his crew either who become memorable to the reader but the side players as well. Hacklett is a pragmatic power player who is not afraid to undermine Almont’s desires- as with Hunter, he is not a bad person, he is all about the business of staying alive in such an unsteady environment. We also have the angelic-looking Anne Sharpe, a young woman who projects an air of innocence and beguilement but underneath she is a creature of cunning who isn’t afraid to utilize her body to get what she wants. Finally we have Cazalla- while we don’t see a lot of him in person, his presence is felt from the moment his name is mentioned- he is a monster, but a highly intelligent one who has earned the reputation he has gained. He absolutely isn’t afraid to commit heinous acts of violence just to prove the point that he is NOT to be trifled with.
While the book boasts impressive historical detail that runs parallel to the fictional elements, it is also very fast-paced and near breathless in it’s spectacle. The perils Hunter and co. run into are all you could ever ask for from a high-sea rollicking, that is not even including the elements I mentioned, not even counting A FRICKIN’ KRAKEN BATTLE!!!! Crichton managed to combine a sense of reality-bending wonder with historical grounding enough to plausibly fantastical and the only thing that is a pity is that the author did not live to see how much accolades and admiration it has received.
I have a feeling this book shall continue to find multiple audiences over time, given also there is heavy talk of it being made into a full-fledged movie. I am completely all for that. While pirates are not automatically hot property and while Disney and Renny Harlin’s box-office flop will always be in the collective cultural memoir, there is no reason that this adaption could not work, at least on a technical level. “Pirate Latitudes” is a stunning experience for all readers, young and old, fan or casual. Well alright, I wouldn’t recommend this book to very young readers or those who absolutely do not have an appetite for such fare featured within these pages, but for the rest of us who want outstanding adventure and dangerous derring-do, this is undoubtely the prose for you.
Pick this one up me dears and see there is more to the high seas than Johnny Depp rocking eyeliner.
Review written by Bea Harper