Sunday, May 18, 2014

Pirate's Passage (William Gilkerson)

Pirate's Passage
William Gilkerson
Fiction, YA General Fiction
**** (Good)

DESCRIPTION: In 1952 Grey Rocks, a small coastal Canadian town, young Jim's life is full of problems. The powerful Moehner family has it in for him and his mother, targeting their struggling historic inn with a number of petty nuisances. He only has one friend in school, a girl named Jenny who, like him, was bumped up a grade. He's even plagued by a personal demon, the Moehner-owned attack dog Grendel, who only ever strikes when nobody's around. Then a November storm blows a stranger into his life.
Captain Charles Johnson, sole crewman of the rickety old vessel Merry Adventure, claims that failed engines brought him to the dock beneath the Admiral Anson Inn, but right away Jim notices some very strange things about the man. He's English by his accent and passport, but seems very vague on his origins and destination. He also seems to know an awful lot about the harbor and the inn for someone who claims to have come here by accident. And when Jim asks the salty old sea dog if he might be able to help with a school essay on pirates, Johnson proves to be a veritable expert on the matter... moreso than any living man has a right to be.

REVIEW: An eBook reissue of an older title, I grabbed it during a freebie download window. Gilkerson manages a tricky feat: not only does he make real-world history engaging to modern readers, but he weaves it into an engaging tale about a boy growing up and underdogs fighting back. Just who (or what) Captain Johnson is never is explained, though he possesses strangely intimate knowledge of long-lost lore and, as Jim discovers, his stories have a strange way of drawing a body into them. The characters may not be dynamically original, but they become real enough to care about. A strong theme through the story is the matter of piracy, and how blurry the term becomes under close scrutiny. When governments simultaneously condone and condemn pirates, when the law itself becomes enough of a crime that breaking it is the only way to survive, when heroism and villainy are two sides of the same coin, where is the line drawn, and by whom? Piracy isn't whitewashed here, either; while some had codes of morals, others - especially after the Golden Age - were monstrous. In listening to Johnson's tales, all of which are drawn from real-world historical sources, Jim learns lessons that help him in his own life. The story moves at a decent pace, though Jim's a little slow at times. I enjoyed this book more than I expected to, and I even learned some things myself.

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Piratica (Tanith Lee) - My Review
Bloody Jack (L. A. Meyer) - My Review
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