AWW 2013 REVIEW – Swashbuckler trilogy (Kelly Gardiner)

Ocean without End (Kelly Gardiner)I’ll admit it. I’m one of those people who has tried to read, but never finished, Moby Dick.

And I’d like to admit further that it has haunted me. It’s one of those books that a person with a literary studies PhD is expected to have read. Along with all the works of Shakespeare, and Austen, Dickens, the Brontes, and – in Australia – White.

I’m not one of those literary studies PhDs. But I digress…

Trying to read Moby Dick and other classics that involved ships and steam-trains caused me to build an aversion to books that featured these things. Seriously. I know it sounds silly. To this day, I haven’t read Murder on the Orient Express, even though I’m a big Christie fan.

So, when I first encountered Kelly Gardiner’s (@kmjgardiner) trilogy and realised ships were involved, I hesitated. But I was won over by the idea of a pirate girl protagonist, and I was on the look-out for books to recommend to my daughter as she moved up the reading levels.

I had intended to dip into the first book and see whether the trilogy would be something I’d recommend to her.

I ended up inhaling all three within about a fortnight. I loved this series. Not only is it well-written and carries you along with the plot’s twists and turns, it offers contextual detail and history in savvy ways. I didn’t know that much about the Napoleonic Wars, and have a lot more in my head now!

I really enjoyed the Swan family’s dynamics and, in particular, Lily Swan’s resilience and cleverness. She’s a fabulous heroine, worthy of carrying a trilogy and bringing to readers the essence of life on the high seas and national blockades (in this instance, of Malta).

With her mother and little brother, Lily calls the idyllic island of Santa Lucia home. Her father is gone, presumed murdered by pirates. When her island comes under attack, Lily is kidnapped and becomes a pirate slave.

Resourceful always, she emerges as a pirate heroine and travels with a crew that happen to be her former kidnappers. They spend much of their time escaping the venal attentions of Captain El Diablo, and the friendships and relations between characters ring with humour and integrity.

Gardiner has a deft hand with constructing a plot that is stirring and non-saccharine, but also not too violent or gratuitous with gritty detail. It’s a difficult balance, I’d imagine, and I didn’t think twice about it until I’d finished all three books and was thinking  back over the whole story. A lot is packed into the three books, and none of it is meandering.

I will certainly be recommending it to my kids, and reading the series to them soon. It’s unfortunately still a rare thing to find wonderful strong female leads in stories, and I will be touting this series where I can. I loved the fact that I could also find out more about the history of real women pirates and the historical setting at the Swashbuckler site (created by Gardiner).

Now cured of my aversion to ship / train / car stories, I may even tackle Murder on the Orient Express in the near future…

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