I have always been drawn to adventures about pirates on the high seas, and so it was only a matter of time before I got around to reading On Stranger Tides (the book that inspired the fourth Pirates of the Caribbean movie). Interestingly enough, this was also the first ever book that I ‘read’ as an audiobook.
The novel follows a man named John Chandagnac who is on a ship bound for Jamaica where he hopes to confront his uncle (who betrayed his father), but enroute, the ship is hijacked by pirates, which then completely changes the course of his journey, and of his life.
The ensuing adventure contains battles at sea, the fountain of youth, voodoo zombie pirates, mysterious and remote tropical island, and many of the other tropes that define the pirate fiction genre, and you know what, as much as these things may sound a little cliché, I absolutely love it. I enjoyed its strange interdimensional attempt at explaining the fountain of youth, and I also loved the way that magic was incorporated into the events as a long forgotten art that could still be harnessed by those in the know – it was always written about so beautifully, giving the world a sense of charm and mystery.
Among the pirates in the story, Chandagnac meets a man named Davies, who is a bit of a pirate archetype. I often thought that he seemed to cold-blooded and ruthless to be truly likeable, but I did enjoy the fact that they didn’t shy away from the ugly side of piracy. I also quite liked the friendship that grew between Davies and Chandagnac as it went on and when Blackbeard shows up, he provides a nice point of comparison that shows Davies could be a lot worse.
One of my only real criticisms of the book is the fact that it only really has one major female character: Beth Hurwood. While she is nice enough, I felt like she was too often just there to be a damsel in distress and/or a love interest for Chandagnac. Later on, ‘female magic’ ends up being an important counterpart to ‘male magic’ which I thought was a bit silly too. Beth is alright all things considered – I just wish she got to have more of an active role in the proceedings.
As a quick side note, I just want to mention one of the villains: Leo Friend. Gosh. Tim Powers did an excellent job in creating somebody who is so utterly repulsively and unlikeable. Somehow, he seems to have the perfect name for a villain too. He interactions with Beth are really gross, but it’s nice to have a piece of adventure/fantasy fiction where the disgusting attitudes to women are coming from the villain and are being openly condemned (you know, unlike Game of Thrones).
If you like pirate fiction, then this book gets a strong recommendation from me. It could be better in some ways (it’s not doing anything ground-breaking with the genre), but it is a wonderful atmospheric pirate adventure, tying in history, fantasy, and even a tough of sci-fi, and I really enjoyed it.