A tale of pirates and porcelain seems a strange combination.
The action is set around 1717-1718, the golden age of piracy is coming to an end, as the 1715 Treaty of Utrecht, stopped the British Government looking on pirates as “privateers”, free to attack French and Spanish ships and more as a nuisance impeding trade with America, in need of reform or hanging.
Patrick Devlin is a Pirate Captain with a poor Irish background, this is the second tale of his exploits, I haven’t read the first. We first meet Patrick in a bar in Madagascar, where his slumber is disturbed by two unwary gentlemen. Patrick drugs them and relieves them of the ship they sailed in on, the Talefan, a brig faster than his Shadow, and makes sail for the Caribbean, as his quartermaster, Peter Sam has been kidnapped.
Ignatius, a rather mysterious character, in Charles Town, South Carolina, will return Peter Sam in exchange for a special treasure he wants Devlin to bring to him. This treasure is not the gold, Devlin secreted away in New Providence in the earlier tale, Ignatius wants an industrial secret, the arcanum for making porcelain. The secret had been smuggled out of China by a Jesuit priest and promises great riches to anyone who can exploit it. The early eighteenth century witnessed the fashion for hot drinks, and having a cup which didn’t burn the hands when drinking would be a godsend with a ready market.
Only Meissen in Saxony was making porcelain in Europe at the time. Ignatius is keen for the new American colonies to have the secrets and produce a valuable commodity for the world market. In the early 18th century, the American Colonies were only allowed to trade with Britain, on terms favourable to the British. A situation allowing piracy to flourish to fill gaps in the market.
Unlike many naval books about the era where the Royal Navy and their captains are the heroes and the pirates are often seen as bloodthirsty but slightly stupid, here we have an intelligent Pirate Captain.
Captain Teach, the real “Blackbeard”, has a role in the novel too, he too is after the Jesuit papers having been tempted with promises of land. His famous ship “The Queen Anne’s Revenge” has been run aground before the action in this story, and he has a smaller faster boat. At the time a pardon was offered to any pirates, who wished to sign a pledge of allegiance to the British and Hanoverian King George.
There is a lot of historical detail here and real historical characters are woven into the mesh of the plot with the fictitious Devlin and his crew.
There is a stand-off near the end with a number of the main characters that has the feel of the stand-off in The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.
There is more here about pirates than porcelain, although I was amused to read that the word for porcelain comes from the Italian porcelana, the shine and lustre of the material compares to the lustrous down on a sow’s back.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book and will look out for other tales of Captain Patrick Devlin, the author clearly loves his pirates.
My rating : 5 out of 5