Monday, 8 August 2011

Sea Witch by Helen Hollick (self-published)

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!


  1. I'm excited to start on this series. I have it on my iPad. I plan on reading it after the baby is born. I'm glad you enjoyed it! Your review makes me that much more excited to start on it.

  2. It's good to see a self published work that is actually very good; I've had nothing but bad luck with self published titles so far :(

  3. What a fabulous review to end my month long Sea Witch Blog Tour! Thank you Amanda (excuse me while I sit here and have a bit of a blub....)
    I was not certain about self publishing this series after twice being let down by mainstream publishers; first time my back list was dropped, so I found a small indie company who published them instead - which then went belly up a few months ago leaving me high and dry. I owed it to my characters and my readers to keep the books in print, so I self published via an assisted publishing company (SilverWood Books of Bristol UK) It's wonderful to know I made the right decision.
    When starting out,I was uncertain about introducing the supernatural element into the Sea Witch series - but part of the pleasure of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies - and similar things like Indiana Jones (and James Bond)is the element of "unreality"; the suspension of belief, be it supernatural, magic, or plain "that could never happen". (I mean, how many times does Richard Sharpe, Indiana Jones or James Bond manage to survive an impossible situation?) The whole point of these sort of movies is to provide pleasurable entertainment - they are not meant to be taken seriously. That is why I wanted to write my Sea Witch Voyages, they are a sailor's yarn romp. Fun to write, fun to read.

    I would like to add that I think the copy I sent for review was one published by the company which has now folded. The new SilverWood editions have been re-edited and are produced to a much better standard. I hope we've picked up on those few errors.... (I have a theory that typos remain invisible until the final print run though...)
    I don't think it is the occasional missed word or a comma in the wrong place that makes the difference between mainstream or self published - there are far more errors in my US mainstream published historical books than in the self published Sea Witch series. It is the technique of writing and the care during editing and production that makes the difference. Self Published authors, if they want to be taken seriously, must be prepared to listen to honest criticism. I would urge all prospective SP authors to have a professional critique of their work. A must is to have the work fully edited, then copy edited and then proof read by a professional editor, and then ensure that the book is produced at a quality mainstream standard. Double spacing between paragraphs or the text left justified, for instance, is unprofessional.
    The thing is, anyone can write a book but not everyone can write a readable book.

    There is absolutely no reason why self published books cannot be every bit as good as any traditional mainstream novel - as long as the author thinks "professional" from rough draft to publication.

    Thank you again Amanda for taking the time and interest in my books - and for supporting me on your blog.