Thursday, 16 February 2017

Review ~ Pirates : Truth and Tales by Helen Hollick

Amberley Publishing
15 February 2017

What's it all about..

The historian R. H. Tawney famously wrote, ‘The sixteenth century lives in terror of the tramp.’ The eighteenth century lived in terror of the tramps of the seas – pirates. Pirates have fascinated people ever since.

It was a harsh life for those who went ‘on the account’, constantly overshadowed by the threat of death – through violence, illness, shipwreck, or the hangman’s noose. The lure of gold, the excitement of the chase and the freedom that life aboard a pirate ship offered were judged by some to be worth the risk. 

Helen Hollick explores both the fiction and fact of the Golden Age of piracy, and there are some surprises in store for those who think they know their Barbary Corsair from their boucanier. Everyone has heard of Captain Morgan, but who recognises the name of the aristocratic Frenchman Daniel Montbars? He killed so many Spaniards he was known as ‘The Exterminator’. The fictional world of pirates, represented in novels and movies, is different from reality. What draws readers and viewers to these notorious hyenas of the high seas? What are the facts behind the fantasy? 

What did I think about it..

I must admit that when I think about pirates, what usually springs to mind is the classic, Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island, a story I read as a child curled in a chair immersed in the excitement of buccaneers and pirates, of buried treasure and golden doubloons, of marauding seamen and dastardly sea captains. And then, of course, much later, came the rather delectable image of the dangerously addictive, Jack Sparrow, the swashbuckling hero of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. However, the reality of piracy is a whole world away from the glitz and glamour of the movie screen and even the adventures of young Jim Hawkins, aboard the Hispaniola, pales into insignificance alongside the reality of what the real life pirates got up to as they sailed the Seven Seas.

In this informative and comprehensive book, the author takes the idea of pirates and piracy, a subject close to her heart, and shows how the literary and movie images of pirates, often bears little, or no, resemblance to the actual physical reality of the real life sea terrorists of the 17th and 18th centuries. The 'golden age' of piracy whilst steeped in mystique and legend, was, all too often, a time of great danger and uncontrolled violence. Interspersed throughout the book is the author's impressive knowledge of historical detail and it is obvious that a great deal of research has gone into bringing this piratical guide to life. Skillfully blending historical facts with literary fiction, sometimes, the book reads as lightly as a novel, but then, at other times, we come sharply back to reality with daring tales of mischance and menace, of lives ruined by too much grog and too many loose women, and which ended, all too often, dangled at the end of a hangman's rope.

Throughout the book, the author's real life buccaneers nestle comfortably alongside their more colourful literary counterparts. I especially enjoyed seeing the author's own pirate creation, Jesemiah Acorne, from The Sea Witch Voyages, come to vibrant life in his own much deserved chapter. The book has a rich and lively vocabulary, with snippets of interesting facts about pirates and piracy that you never knew you needed to know, but which are all recounted with the authors sparkling wit and fine attention to detail. For the songsters among you there are words to popular sea shanties, some familiar like, Spanish Ladies and What Shall We Do With A Drunken Sailor and others such as, The Top Man and the Afterguard, which are rather more obscure but no less fascinating to read of their origin and usage.

However you like your pirates, be they real or imaginary, there is no doubt that Pirates:Truth and Tales, is a great dip in and out of kind of book and whichever page the book falls open at, you are guaranteed to find a fascinating snippet into the life and times of these colourful, and it must be said, decidedly, dangerous characters.

Best Read with....A tot of Damson rum and a generous slice of rum laden fruitcake...

About the author

Helen Hollick is a British author of historical fiction.She is the author of the Arthurian Trilogy, Pendragon's Banner and two Saxon novels, Harold the King and The Hollow Crown. Helen was selected by US publisher Sourcebooks and became a USA bestseller. Her Sea Witch Voyages are nautical adventures with a touch of fantasy and are inspired by the Golden Age of Piracy. Helen lives in Devon.

You can find out more about the author by going to her website by clicking here

Or follow on Twitter @HelenHollick

My thanks to Phillip at Amberley Publishing for sending me a review copy of Pirates : Truth and Tales



  1. Arrr! Thank 'ee kindly ma'am (and puss)

  2. Jo, I read the first in the Sea Witch series and really enjoyed it. This book sounds fascinating!

    1. It really is a fascinating read, Wendy. I enjoyed it very much.


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