PURCHASE:Amazon | Book Depository
n this stunningly creative debut, Nicole Castroman reimagines the origins of history’s most infamous pirate—Blackbeard—and tells the story of the girl who captured his heart and then broke it, setting him on a path to destruction.
When Edward “Teach” Drummond, son of one of Bristol’s richest merchants, returns home from a year at sea, he finds his life in shambles. Betrothed to a girl he doesn’t love and sick of the high society he was born into, all Teach wants is to return to the vast ocean he calls home. There’s just one problem: he must convince his father to let him leave and never come back.
Following the death of her parents, Anne Barrett is left penniless. Though she’s barely worked a day in her life, Anne takes a job as a maid in the home of Master Drummond. Lonely days stretch into weeks and Anne longs to escape the confines of her now mundane life. How will she ever achieve her dream of sailing to Curaçao—her mother’s birthplace—when she’s trapped in England?
From the moment Teach and Anne meet, they set the world ablaze. Drawn together by a shared desire for freedom, but kept apart by Teach’s father, their love is as passionate as it is forbidden. Faced with an impossible choice, Teach and Anne must decide whether to chase their dreams and leave England forever—or follow their hearts and stay together.
Unfortunately, Blackhearts was a bitter disappointment – most of all because the book was sorely misrepresented by its marketing team. Pirates and ships seem to be all the rage these day in YA fiction (something I am still a little baffled about, what brought this on?!) – promising sea adventures and morally gray characters out for blood. The blurb entices us with phrases like ‘they set the world ablaze’ and ‘origins of history’s most infamous pirates’. What we got instead was a derivative historical romance – a decent one, might I add – but I simply was not in the mood, especially when I feel a little duped by the cover and the summary.
‘It was obvious that Anne didn’t fully belong to either race, and others often viewed her with distaste of distrust.’
Let’s just start with the positive, in the name of optimism and all. I really enjoyed Anne’s character at first, and the challenges she faced. Being biracial, Anne had to suffer at both the bigotry of the time – and her station as a maid proved to lay more hardships in path. Nonetheless, Anne remained sharp-witted, resourceful and sassy. She has a bit of a temper, lashing out mentally at everyone who crosses her path. She knows what she wants out of life and is not afraid to bend rules to get there. I found myself cheering her on, even while she was stealing silvers from Master Drummond – because how could you not? She is a walking ball of snark and fury, there’s really no quicker way to steal my heart.
Sadly, where Anne was celebrated and awesome – the other females in the book were executed poorly. It galls me more that it was Anne herself who remained unkind to them – when her position should have developed some empathy, especially to her fellow maids. The book took the easy way out: treating Anne as the poor, helpless, beautiful heroine who suffered from the envy and cruelty of all fellow females.
‘Their cruel comments had stung. Anne had done her best to ignore them, but she’d been overwhelmed and depressed by her new situation’.
There’s Mary, Sara, and Margaery, fellow maids who serve just to dally with groomsmen like ‘harlots’ and bully poor Anne. Really, they’re little more than the equivalent of the wicked stepmother and stepsisters archetype. Always trying to get at our heroine, but never truly good enough to be on her level. In fact, they were such flat characters that in my mind, they have melded into one being – I had to look up their name while typing up this review. Then, of course, we have to be constantly reminded that Anne is not like OTHER maids, she’s so educated and refined.
‘Patience did not take well to competition, especially in the form of a house servant’.
Then there’s Miss Patience, problematic does not even begin to cover her portrayal. Yes, you can blame the time period this book was portrayed in – but that would be a weak argument, because Anne continues to exhibit very 21st century thinking, a feat only the *heroine* would manage. Patience was deplored for flirting and advancing on Teach, who happened to be her betrothed – and who also happened to have welcomed her flirtations in the past. Why is it so easy for fiction to slip back into the dichotomy of virgin and whore? If that’s not enough to gall, the book also goes out of its way to ensure we firmly hate Patience by adding charming attributes of racism, classicism, and a penchant for insulting Anne at every opportunity. Her characterisation is no better than a moustache twirling villain, and vastly more offensive.
If your hero and heroine can only appear likable because they’re standing amongst a cast of greedy bigots, well – you have a problem. The thing is — Anne was doing well on her own, before I encountered all of this nonsense and had to resist the urge to fling my Kindle out of the window.
I can somewhat understand why the book resorted to such lazy tropes with its side characters: to create conflict. Why? Because aside from Anne and Teach’s romance – there was utterly NO PLOT WHATSOEVER. This must be what, a 300 pages long book? The plot revolved entirely around the courtship of Anne and Teach – which followed a predictable trajectory: misunderstanding, followed by intrigue, followed by a realisation that they are the only ones who could possibly understand each other – and a fair few of the standard ‘obstacles’: jealous fiancee, different class station, ambitious parents. Although they had chemistry, I quickly bored from reading lines like:
‘Whether you are aware of it or not, you and I are alike, Anne. We feel things differently to others.’
‘She was his only source of pleasure at the moment, and it frightened him how much he depended on her to achieve his happiness’.
YES. The man who is meant to become Blackbeard – most infamous pirate of all time – uttered that sentence above. What Teach did a lot of in this book: making moony eyes at Anne, being framed with the most paper-thin plot possible, a lot of brooding. What he didn’t do at all: pirating, setting foot on a ship for 99% of the novel, have a personality. Honestly, he was so dull, especially disappointing for a book meant to be about Blackbeard’s origin. Anne 100% stole the limelight.
There may be a sequel. But I just don’t care anymore. If you’re looking for a quick historical romance without plot, this will work in a pinch. For people looking for action and substance: stay away.
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