Published by Simon and Schuster, Simon Pulse on February 9, 2016
Pages: 384 pages
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In 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.
I was excited to read Nicole Castroman’s debut, Blackhearts, because I love historical fiction! I love historical fiction set in the 18th century! and Blackbeard!
And, um, as a North Carolina resident, I went to the NC Maritime Museum this summer and saw artifacts from Blackbeard’s ship, the Queen Anne’s Revenge. If you are in or around Beaufort, NC, by the way, you too can do this thing.
While I did not totally love Blackhearts, I am not sure that it’s the fault of the book? I went into Blackhearts wanting richly developed historical fiction with a little bit of romance on the side. What made Edward Teach into Blackbeard? Instead, the book is … a lot of romance. It’s primarily about Teach’s relationship with Anne Barrett, who is working, when they are first introduced, as a maid in Teach’s father’s home. Anne is the daughter of a white merchant and a West Indian slave; her half-brother has found her the position in the Drummond household. Teach, Drummond’s son, is engaged to a young woman of high rank; his father wants him to stay at home, though Teach dreams of going off to sea.
So it wasn’t not quite what I expected, but that initially didn’t bother me, because I do like and read quite a lot of romance. It’s just that it quickly became clear that the kind of the romance in Blackhearts isn’t the kind I tend to enjoy. If you like light romance, you may enjoy it. Blackhearts is very focused on Teach and Anne’s transformation from maybe-initial dislike to passionate attachment, as well as their struggles to overcome the various obstacles that prevent them from being together. There’s a lot of time spent on both sides articulating how deeply they feel for each other, and I mean, from my perspective at least, it’s something of a slow-burn romance.
But here’s the thing. When they first meet, Anne is working as a maid in Teach’s father’s household. The power differential in their relationship is never really treated as an issue, when it very much is for me as a reader. For example, Teach uses his size to intimidate her, he pretends to be sick so that Anne has to sit by his bed for like a month and read to him (even though this choice takes her away from her work and has real consequences for her), and while he can use his authority to protect her from those consequences, this doesn’t make for a romantic relationship I necessarily feel good about. Furthermore, while both Teach and Anne both desire freedom, the novel treats those desires as equivalent when they … kind of aren’t? View Spoiler » Teach doesn’t want to marry Patience; he doesn’t want to do what his dad wants! He does want to go to sea. On the other hand, Anne has been tricked into becoming a maid by her half-brother; even when she discovers that she has money, her access to it is limited by Mr. Drummond and then by his servants; she gets kidnapped. There are all sorts of social barriers in place for Anne, on account of her race, class, and gender, that aren’t there for Teach. « Hide Spoiler
Also, I want to mention Teach’s engagement to Patience for a second because the inclusion of her character displays one of my least favorite tropes – the pairing of a manipulative, vapid, sexually active mean girl (Patience) with the hero’s real one true love, who is of course, none of these things. View Spoiler » And of course, Patience has been trying to inveigle Teach into marriage while she’s pregnant with someone else’s baby! She’s a very flat character – if you can think of every stereotype for “is a bad woman!” Patience possesses it in full. « Hide Spoiler While I like Anne – Anne is smart and great! – I wish that this other young woman weren’t being used as her foil. And there’s sort of a lack of well-developed supporting characters in general in the novel, in part because the focus is so heavily on Teach and Anne and their romance. (This is definitely one of those romance novels where the two protagonists are in a world of their own.)
Finally, it’s worth noting that this book is a stand-alone with a crazy cliffhanger at the end. Remember that the book is supposed to be an origin story! By the book’s end, what makes Edward Teach become the pirate Blackbeard? As you might have guessed (& just in time for Valentine’s Day), it’s love. It’s just not a very satisfying answer from my perspective as a reader, and here’s why. View Spoiler » So: the novel ends, Anne is on a ship, Teach is on a different ship, and he’s just broken ties with his father. It still doesn’t explain why he becomes a pirate! It explains … how he ends up on a boat? It explains … why he’s named Blackbeard? But his motivations for piracy are still not at all apparent to me? « Hide Spoiler I don’t know. I feel like in some ways the really interesting story could be the one that follows this one, but … this is, as far as I know, a stand-alone. I think there’s certainly space for a sequel, though, and I hope Castroman writes one.
Read it if you want to read a light romance about Blackbeard, but do not expect pirating or seafaring in this book, I think.
So. Blackhearts! Have you read it? Do you want to? If you have, what did you think?
An advance copy was provided by the publisher for this review.