Marquis’ (The Fourth Pularchek, 2017, etc.) historical novel, based on a true story, aims to rehabilitate the pirate Blackbeard, delivering a wealth of information about his era and place in history.
Edward Thache Jr., better known as the notorious, larger-than-life “Blackbeard,” was a British naval officer–turned–privateer and pirate. He and his fellow pirates, ardent Jacobites, hated the German interloper, George I, and the whole British establishment. Contrary to government propaganda of the day, Blackbeard was quite civilized—although, by design, he cultivated a very fearsome mien. This tale, beginning in 1715, shows how he preferred to simply approach a ship and terrify its captain and crew into surrendering; remarkably, this almost always worked. Meanwhile, Blackbeard’s nemesis, the odious Alexander Spotswood, lieutenant governor of Virginia, was determined to put an end to the pirate by whatever means. The protagonist’s beautiful love interest, Margaret of Marcus Hook, is a key element in the story, and other real-life historical characters in this densely populated book include Caesar, a slave that Blackbeard rescued and made his right-hand man; Stede Bonnet, successful Barbados planter–turned–hapless freebooter; and Black Sam Bellamy, a young hothead who saw pirates like himself as Robin Hood figures. Marquis writes quite well, but his real contribution with this book is historical, as the age of piracy was remarkably short, and Blackbeard’s turn on the stage was only two years: 1715 to 1717. The book’s subtitle, The Birth of America, is intriguing, and Marquis shows it to be more apt than one might suppose. A pirate ship, as he portrays it here, was a true democracy in many ways. He also shows how the colonists, many of whom had been born in the New World, had begun to identify themselves as American, not British; they were very ambivalent about the pirates, whom many saw as heroic figures. Overall, this is a thoroughly researched book that finely draws the pirate life; one can almost smell the bilge and salt air and taste the rum.
An engrossing and historically grounded yarn.