The time: the golden age of piracy – 1716. The Place: the Pirate Round – from South Africa to the Islands of the Caribbean. Escaping the bullying of his elder brother, from the age of fifteen Jesamiah Acorne has been a pirate, with only two loves - his ship and his freedom. But his life is to change when he and his crew unsuccessfully attack a merchant ship off the coast of South Africa. He is to meet Tiola Oldstagh, an insignificant girl or so he thinks - until she rescues him from a vicious attack, and almost certain death, by pirate hunters. And then he discovers what she really is; a healer and a midwife - and a white witch. Her name, an anagram of "all that is good." Jesamiah and Tiola become lovers, despite her guardian, Jenna Pendeen’s disapproval, but Stefan van Overstratten a Cape Town Dutchman, also wants Tiola as his wife, and Jesamiah’s half brother Phillipe Mereno, is determined to seek revenge for a stolen ship and the insult of being cuckolded.
When the call of the sea and an opportunity to commandeer a beautiful ship – Sea Witch - is put in Jesamiah’s path, he must make a choice between his life as a pirate or his love for Tiola; he wants both - but Mereno and Von Overstratten want him dead. In trouble, imprisoned in the darkness and stench that is the lowest part of his brother’s ship, can Tiola with her Craft, and the aid of Roux, Jesamiah’s quartermaster and the rest of his loyal crew, save her pirate? And can she keep Jesamiah safe from another who wants him for herself? From the elemental being that is Tethys, Goddess of the Sea? A charismatic pirate rogue and a white witch - what better combination for a story of romance and high-sea fantasy adventure?
Helen Hollick's novels about Jesamiah Acorne have long been on my radar, self-published or no. The reason for this is that I read all of the historical novels that she wrote and released through a traditional publisher when I was younger - her trilogy about King Arthur, and books about Harold the King. Helen has struggled to get to a point where she was even able to release the Jesamiah books, and eventually decided to self-publish.
And you know what? It is absolutely criminal that her books won't be read by a wider audience. I equate her writing to that of Diana Gabaldon - a slight supernatural bent on what is an historical love story. Jesamiah and Tiola are easily the equal of Clare and Jamie. Sometimes I can see absolutely why people are releasing self-published books - it is the only way that their work will see print. Helen should be snapped up by a traditional publisher!
The reason for this? The quality of the prose, the fabulously strong characters and the sense of absolute fun that imbues the entire text. Helen was clearly having an absolute blast with her lovable rogue of a pirate.
Helen's prose is an absolute joy to read. It flows incredibly well, with some beautiful word choices. It is warm and wise. I loved it in her first novel and I love it now. She certainly bears comparison with Sharon Penman when considering the manner in which she writes.
Anyone who enjoyed the first Pirates of the Caribbean film - and fell a little bit in love with Captain Jack Sparrow - will adore Jesamiah Acorne. He is honourable (as far as it goes), incredibly masculine and has a good heart. Seriously, I go weak at the knees at the thought of him *grins* He is well-matched by Tioma, who is clever and capable. The secondary cast are also written effectively on the whole, although a couple suffered from lack of page time and ended up feeling a bit two dimensional.
The one problem I could foresee with reader's enjoyment of Sea Witch is whether you buy into the white witch aspect of the story. Those going into this expecting a simple pirate yarn/historical adventure will be slightly missold. There is magic - of a sort - and an immortal foe that hovers in the background. The Craft takes centre stage on a couple of occasions. I enjoyed it and feel that there is a market for adding supernatural aspects to historical events, but other people might struggle to suspend their disbelief.
In terms of the self-published aspect: I found some sentences where additional commas wouldn't have gone amiss. There were odd words missing here and there, although the context made it easy to see what should have been present. Honestly, it wasn't much worse than some of the traditionally published books I have read.
This is a high quality work that I would firmly encourage people to pick up. Happily, this is the first in a series of three books (so far) - even more happily, I have the other two waiting for me. I can't wait to meet Jesamiah again!