Book Review: Daughter of the Pirate King by Tricia Levenseller
Disclaimer: I was provided with an Advance Reader’s Edition for the purpose of writing this review; no other compensation was offered or requested. There will be changes in the final product; the one I know about is that the published version will have a darker cover, less “chick lit” and more “piratey.”
We first meet Alosa disguised as a cabin boy on a ship that’s been captured by the pirate ship the Night Farer. Despite this, she is soon spotted as a woman, and the very prize Captain Draxen and his brother/first mate Riden attacked to find. Soon Alosa is secured in the Night Farer‘s brig, and a ransom demand is being made to her father, Kalligan the Pirate King.
Just as Alosa had planned. For the brothers have one third of a legendary treasure map, and the only way to get on their ship to steal it was to be invited. But though Alosa is clever and skilled, there are a few secrets she doesn’t know, and that could sink her mission before the fortnight is out.
This adventure novel is aimed at the higher end of young adult, with a protagonist who doesn’t hesitate to kill people if that’s what’s needed to accomplish her job. Alosa has had a rough, even abusive, childhood being trained up to become a worthy successor to her father. As a result, she has quite an edge, and her first-person narration often puts other people down in the process of showing herself to be good enough to please her father.
The one person on the enemy crew who can keep up with her acid tongue is Riden, who is perhaps a bit more compassionate than is safe for a pirate. It comes as no surprise to the reader when the two start falling in love despite their respective positions. The romance might be obvious, and take up more time than the action, but the banter is nice.
Alosa at times comes across as smug, especially when she reminds us that she’s holding back to hide her true awesomeness, but that does make the moments when the rug is pulled out from under her more satisfying.
The world building is minimal; it’s the Age of Sail but with a vastly simplified political situation, and a fantasy element that becomes more important in the last third of the novel. While most of the immediate plot threads are wrapped up, this is a bit too obviously a book with a sequel coming soon.
Content: In addition to the child abuse mentioned above, sexual assault is something Alosa thinks about a lot, due to her circumstances. There’s some heavy petting scenes, but the characters never go all the way. Also torture just off-stage.
Primarily for pirate story fans who do not mind a heavy romance subplot.
Anime Review: Lupin the Third: The Italian Adventure
Arsène Lupin III, alleged French-Japanese descendant of the famous 19th Century criminal Arsène Lupin, is a master thief. If he says he’ll steal something, Lupin the 3rd most certainly will. A master of disguise, able to open any lock, and possessed of great cunning, he steals treasures and hearts with equal ease. Lupin usually works with gunman Daisuke Jigen, swordsman Goemon Ishikawa and femme fatale Fujiko Mine, though they aren’t always loyal to each other–particularly Fujiko. The gang is perpetually pursued by the dogged Inspector Koichi Zenigata of the ICPO. Now Lupin the Third has come to Italy; what is he up to this time? Is he really just there to get married?
This Italian-Japanese co-production is the latest anime series based on the Lupin the Third manga by Monkey Punch. The manga in turn was loosely based on the original Lupin stories by Maurice Leblanc. Back in the 1960s, Japan didn’t enforce international copyright, so when the Leblanc estate finally found out about the manga, they couldn’t block it or insist on a cut of the profits, but were able to tie up international rights, meaning that most Lupin III products overseas had to use other names like “Rupan” or “Wolf.” (The original Lupin stories entered the public domain in 2012.)
The series begins in the small independent republic of San Marino, as Lupin marries bored heiress Rebecca Rossellini as part of a plan to steal the greatest treasure of that tiny country. However, it turns out that Rebecca has her own plans, and with the aid of her faithful manservant Robson turns the tables partially on the master thief. Since he never formally consummated his marriage with Rebecca, but neither is he formally divorced from her, Lupin decides to stay in the Italian area for a while.
One of his thefts brings Lupin into conflict with Agent Nyx of MI-6, who has superhuman hearing, among other gifts. Nyx turns out to be a less than enthusiastic agent, who wants to retire from spying to spend more time with his family…but MI-6 needs him too much.
Things take a SFnal turn when it turns out there’s a virtual reality/shared dream device out there which ties into the return of Italy’s most brilliant mind, Leonardo da Vinci! Lupin, his allies and adversaries must figure out how to survive the Harmony of the World.
The series is largely comedy, but with serious moments, and some episodes are very sentimental indeed. (This contrasts with the original manga, which had a darker sense of humor, and a nastier version of Lupin who would not hesitate at murder or rape to get his way.) All of the major characters get focus episodes that explore their personalities and skills.
Placing the entire series on the Italian Peninsula (with brief excursions to France and Japan) gives it a thematic consistency that previous Lupin series have lacked, and this is all to the good. Having new recurring characters also allows a bit more variety in plotlines for the episodes. Mind, Rebecca can get annoying from time to time and feels shoehorned into a couple of episodes. (A couple of Rebecca-centric episodes were removed from the Japanese broadcast order.)
While the primary appeal will be to existing Lupin the Third fans, this series does a good job of filling newcomers in on everything they really need to know. If you enjoy stories about clever gentleman thieves with a soft spot for pretty ladies, this one is for you.
Here’s a look at the Italian version of the opening theme!
Comic Book Review: The Drained Brains Caper written by Trina Robbins, art by Tyler Page
Megan Yamamura wants a pet. Unfortunately, the young poet’s (she specializes in haiku) father is allergic to all fur-bearing animals, so she’s thinking maybe a tarantula, which is fuzzy but not furry might be the best bet.
She’s been looking all over her new city of Chicagoland and having no luck when she comes into the pet supply store Raf Hernandez is manning the counter of. The young computer whiz is helping out his mother, but the store’s policy is clear–they sell pet supplies, not animals.
Megan has other problems. One of the reasons her family had to move was because she’d been expelled from her old school (a total overreaction to a minor offense) and she now has to spend the summer at Stepford Academy. The students and teachers there are all smiling zombies, and the meat-laden school lunches (anathema to vegetarian Megan) have unusual effects if overeaten.
Raf is the only person her age she kind of knows in the neighborhood, so she has to turn to him when her father ignores the warning signs that something’s not right at Stepford Academy. (In the tradition of middle-school stories, Mr. Yamamura is totally oblivious to what Megan tells him and only listens to other adults.) The kids are soon joined by Bradley, a talking dog, and must stop the mad scientist, Dr. Vorschak, before she can bring the entire city under her sway.
This is the first volume in the Chicagoland Detective Agency series of children’s graphic novels. Trina Robbins is a long-time comics creator, and her writing here is decent if perhaps a bit shortcut-heavy. There’s not much mystery here, but then the detective agency hasn’t been formed yet. The detective himself doesn’t come in until halfway through, and he just happens to have known what was going on all along.
The city of Chicagoland is about 90% Chicago (it has the El and the Cubs), but presumably isn’t just Chicago so that the creative team can shove any odd buildings or fictional organizations they want in.
There’s some slapstick violence, and Dr. Vorschak engages in unethical animal testing as well as unethical human testing. But in general, this should be suitable for middle-school readers.
Recommended to fans of things like the Scooby-Doo cartoons.
Comic Book Review: Noble Causes Archives, Vol. 1 written by Jay Faerber
Liz Donnelly is nervous about meeting her future in-laws. After all, she’s just a normal bookstore manager, and they’re the Noble Family, celebrity superheroes, beloved across the world. Her fiance Race Noble is nice enough, but Liz soon learns that behind the glitzy facade, the Noble family has severe problems that are tearing them apart. When tragedy strikes, it could be the ending of Liz’s world, if not everyone’s.
This Image Comics offering was a series of miniseries before getting approved for an ongoing (with a soft reset.) It takes the soap opera aspects of modern superhero comics, and the idea of superheroes as celebrities, and runs with it. Indeed, the soap opera is so central that it’s several issues before we see one of the family do something that matches the “hero” part of the genre.
At the beginning, the family consists of “Doc” Noble, an inventor/adventurer who has retreated into his laboratory more and more as the years have gone by, rather than interact with his brood; his wife Gaia, a nature mage from another dimension who craved the celebrity lifestyle and has crafted the family’s public image; Icarus, Doc’s robot assistant, who considers himself the dutiful son; Rusty, who recently suffered an “accident” that required transplanting his brain into a robotic body; Celeste, Rusty’s gold digger wife, who was unfaithful to him even before he became all metal; Race, a super-speedster who has the best emotional balance of the crew; Krennick, Race’s best buddy and son of family enemy Draconis, who has an unrequited thing for; Zephyr, only daughter and a rebellious teenager whose promiscuity has gotten out of hand; and Frost, Gaia’s son by a brief affair, who officially does not exist, and has been sleeping with Celeste.
Liz’s marriage to Race helps precipitate a series of events that bring to light several family secrets and relationship crises. The series is really good at issue-ending cliffhangers.
This black and white reprint volume covers up to issue #12 of the ongoing, and the resolution of the Zephyr pregnancy plotline. There were a number of back-up stories that flashed back to events before Liz met the family; instead of being bundled with the main stories of each issue they were published in, they have been placed at the end of the volume. These stories explain some motivations and sometimes make the characters’ actions more sympathetic.
Content warnings: There’s a fairly gory scene early on, a lot of talk about sex (and some near-sex scenes) and some rather disturbing implications in the backstory. I’d say senior high school and up for readership.
Many of the characters are not particularly likable. (When Doc suddenly starts being a somewhat better husband and father, Gaia worries that he’s terminally ill.) But there are enough of them that are sympathetic or enjoyable to keep reading.
The art is by a number of different creators, mostly in the decent to acceptable range.
Recommended to comic book fans who are really into the soap opera aspect.
Magazine Review: The Saturday Evening Post 6/10/61 edited by Ben Hibbs
The Saturday Evening Post ran weekly from 1897-1963; after several format changes, it is now published six times a year. The Post was well known for its lavish illustrations and a combination of current event articles and short stories by popular writers. I got this issue from the month of my birth as an early birthday present. At the time, this magazine was printed in the broadsheet format, which is too large for my scanner–thus the truncated cover image showing only a part of Amos Spewell’s painting of tourists in Venice.
To entice potential customers at newsstands, the Post front-loaded the illustrations in spreads at the front of the magazine, and each of the articles and stories continued in the word-heavy back pages interspersed with a few cartoons. There were also many large illustrated advertisements–one for tampons is notable for not telling the reader what the product is, showing the product or saying what it’s used for exactly; if I didn’t know from the name of the product, I’d assume it’s some kind of skin cleanser or deodorant.
The Post was also known for having a staunchly conservative editorial stance, and this is on full display in an editorial expressing relief that leftist thought was vanishing from college campuses and conservatism was on the rise. “Of course, the battle isn’t over. Queer characters still appear on college campuses sponsored by ‘liberal’ groups.” Oh, if only they knew!
In the lively letters to the editor section, comments on an article about Bobby Darrin reveal changes in our pop culture, with people being shocked or pleased that he was willing to share personal opinions with the press even if they didn’t match the public’s desired stance. One letter writer asked why an article on “Presidents in Retirement” did not include FDR. The editor waggishly replies that the place that man retired to is not on the reporter’s regular beat. There’s also a couple of letters on segregation, responding negatively to a previous letter writer’s suggestion that since Southerners didn’t go to Northern states to demand segregation, Northerners should reciprocate about desegregation.
Let’s look at the contents.
“The White House Insiders” by Stewart Alsop is a look at President Kennedy’s political staffers (all men, all white-one had a black deputy) and how they helped him keep on top of what was happening in the country and the world. It goes into detail about JFK’s management style. The only top staff name most younger readers are likely to recognize is Arthur Schlesinger Jr., but Henry Kissinger is briefly mentioned as a second-stringer.
“Death of a Demon” by Rex Stout is part one of three of a Nero Wolfe mystery novella. The sedentary detective is briefly engaged by a woman who wants to show him the gun she will not use to shoot her husband. That’s…kind of suspicious, and when the husband turns up dead from a bullet wound, some questions are raised. Archie Goodwin, Wolfe’s leg man, is pretty sure the woman didn’t do it, but there are gaping holes in her story. It’s certainly an intriguing beginning! Happily, this story was included in Homicide Trinity by Rex Stout, which you can probably get through interlibrary loan.
“How the Doctors Saved Chicago’s Burned Children” by Alice Lake is a look at how St. Anne’s Hospital dealt with the victims of a fire at Our Lady of the Angels School in 1958. 95 people died immediately or in the aftermath, but this story concentrates on the survivors. Part of the credit for St. Anne’s quick and organized response goes to disaster preparedness they had undertaken after a fire some years before had caught the hospital unprepared for multiple victims. There are details of the treatment s used and updates on a couple of the survivors as of mid-1961. One of the treatments tried was using blood transfusions from recovering adult burn victims in the hope that their blood had antigens against “burn toxin.” (From the little I could find, research into this treatment has shown scant evidence of effectiveness.) For more on the fire, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Our_Lady_of_the_Angels_School_fire
“Handsome Samaritan” by Phyllis Duganne is a story about an airline pilot driving to vacation in Florida when he stops to help some stranded motorists. One of them is a very pretty woman, but he’s supposed to be meeting his fiancee. The pilot comes to realize he is much more compatible with this new woman who is more interested in who he is than who she can make him become. I found this story uncomfortable, and skimmed to the end.
“The Poacher” by Gene Coghlan, set in Depression-era North Dakota, has two brothers growing up on an isolated farm, and using traps to earn a little pocket money. One brother is laid up with a broken leg, and the protagonist takes advantage of this to claim that a fur animal was caught in one of his traps, rather than his brother’s. Presumably he learned a valuable lesson about life, but the conclusion pages are missing from my copy. Unfortunately, Mr. Coghlan doesn’t seem to have any books in print.
“The Case of the Comical Banker” by Harold H. Martin, profiles Mills Bee Lane, Jr., then president of the Citizens & Southern National Bank in Atlanta, Georgia. Known for a jovial style (unlike the stuffy conservatism usually associated with bankers of the period), his business acumen turned the C&S into the largest bank in the South. You may be more familiar with his nephew, Mills Bee Lane III, who became a famous boxing referee and TV judge. Lane, Jr. was credited in the article for jumpstarting tobacco farming in the Atlanta area when cotton took a dive in the market.
“The Meaning of the Eichmann Trial” by T.S. Matthews was published about halfway through the war crimes trial of Adolf Eichmann. (He was found guilty and hanged.) The article talks a lot about the trial conditions and the thoroughness of the Israeli court system. “Israel means to show the world that, in the British phrase, ‘justice is not only done but seen to have been done.” It also talks about the character of Israel as a country, and its people. The trial took place in a newly built suburb of Jerusalem, because at that time the Old City was in the hands of Jordan. This is a very moving article, and I think the best in the issue.
“Cop with Camera Eyes” by Thomas Walsh features a police detective with “photographic memory”, if he sees something, and it’s important to him at a later time, he will remember it clearly. It triggers when he notices the same person in the crowd three times during a date he’s having with his new neighbor. After safely returning his date home, The cop ambushes this tail. Surprise! It’s a federal agent! Seems the attractive foreign lady is suspected of being a Communist spy. Reluctantly, the cop agrees to keep an eye on the girl he has come to adore, but then she vanishes–and for the first time, the cop’s memory fails him at a critical moment. Can he crack the case before innocents are killed? It’s a pretty good story; I don’t know if it’s ever been reprinted, but Mr. Walsh’s Nightmare in Manhattan is considered a superior mystery novel and that you can find.
“Is Nature Getting Neurotic?” by Corey Ford is a humor piece about how over-complicated gardening and landscaping have become, requiring the homeowner to employ multiple specialists and expensive treatments just to keep the lawn alive.
“In the Best Interest of the Service” by Walt Grove takes us inside an Air Force base. A major must make a difficult decision because of the need for unit cohesiveness. A rescue chopper pilot is being accused of cowardice by one of his crew members. This is complicated by the officer being a Negro, and the crew member being a white man from the Deep South and the type of person who nowadays would be decrying “political correctness.” He doesn’t mean any harm by the N-word, he claims, so why shouldn’t he use it? But that does raise the stink of possible racism. Oh, and the chopper pilot is the major’s best friend on the base, so there may be the question of favoritism. Who will be getting transferred out? The resolution to the situation may be a little too convenient, but is satisfying, and inspires the major to take some steps in his personal life he’s put off too long. Mr. Grove wrote several action books about pilots, but it doesn’t appear any are currently in print.
“Comeback of the Giant Turtle” by Bern Keating is about efforts to increase the population of the green sea turtle (so called because of its distinctive green fat deposits inside the shell) in the Caribbean. Despite these and other preservation efforts, the green sea turtle remains an endangered species.
And finally, “The Big Swindle” by Clarence Budington Kelland is part 5 of 6. Twins Pet and Pete Du Chillon have finally come of age, and are attempting to make sense of what their guardian, Mortimer Norton, has done with the family company. It seems all sorts of shady shenanigans have been going on! The twins have some sort of scheme to expose the truth, involving a phony foreign prince and double-bluffing the man who runs security for Du Chillon Industries. This installment suffers from coming in the middle of the story, but I think it’s also a pretty bad story. Pet and Pete, as well as their beloved grandmother, are the sort of people who the author tries hard to convince us are very witty, but come off snide instead. The funniest bit for me was one of the supporting characters denying the possibility of a “twins threesome” in such a way as to make me think he’s thought waay too much about the topic (and also never mentioning sex because this is a family magazine.) Mr. Kelland is largely forgotten, but once was popular enough that Harlan Ellison called him out by name for lowering the tastes of the American public.
There’s also short poems (amusing but forgettable), jokes and cartoons.
This was a fun look back at a moment in time just before I was born. Copies of the Post in bad condition can be found relatively cheaply; issues in excellent condition, or with stories by top authors, will set you back considerably more money. Also, you can visit the website of the current magazine: http://www.saturdayeveningpost.com/
This is the third book in the Horatio Hornblower series as they were originally written, but the eighth in internal chronology. For those of you who somehow have not heard of these books or their media adaptations before, Hornblower is an officer in the British navy during the Napoleonic Wars period, rising from midshipman to admiral over the course of many years.
Flying Colours is a bit of a departure from the usual for the series, as Captain Hornblower isn’t at sea for most of it. At the end of the previous novel, Ship of the Line, he was forced to surrender to the perfidious French, and can only watch from a distance as the British Navy finishes off the French ships he had wounded. Things are going poorly for Napoleon at the moment, and a propaganda victory would be nice. Thus Hornblower, his crippled first lieutenant Bush, and coxswain Brown are to be transported to Paris for a show trial and execution. (Hornblower had flown false colours at one point, which he considers a legitimate gambit, but it is treated as a war crime by the French.)
Halfway through the journey, the coach gets stuck during a blizzard, and Hornblower comes up with an escape plan. The immediate plan succeeds, but our heroes are still deep in enemy territory, and it is many miles to the sea. Now three unarmed men, one missing a leg, in the middle of winter, must somehow elude capture and reach the coast.
Hornblower is a layered character. Skilled at seamanship, naval tactics and exciting the loyalty of his crews, Horatio is also crippled by self-doubt and a perceived need to prevent anyone from realizing just how “weak” he really is. This means that he has trouble making friends, particularly influential ones, and easily makes enemies. He’s also careful not to let it be generally known that he’s a “freethinker” which puts him at odds with more religiously-minded fellow officers.
More problematically, Hornblower is very class-conscious due to his humble beginnings, and this causes him to be rather classist at inopportune times. And his relationships with women are difficult. During this novel, he’s married to one woman who’s expecting his child, in love with the Admiral’s wife and has an affair with a third woman. Horatio knows full well that his behavior is inexcusable, and this fuels his self-doubt even more, but doesn’t stop him from having adulterous (as far as he knows) sex. At the end of the book, he reflects that if it were a romance novel, his gaining everything he thought he wanted would be a happy ending, but it has all turned to ashes in his mouth.
Once our heroes reach the sea again, there’s a small-scale but exciting battle–C.S. Forester is considered one of the best at describing these.
Overall, very well written and it’s no wonder that this is a much-beloved series. Recommended to those who love tales of the sea and Napoleonic Wars buffs.
Book Review: Better than Bullets: The Complete Adventures of Thibaut Corday and the Foreign Legion Volume 1 by Theodore Roscoe
The Légion étrangère was created in 1831 as a way to remove disruptive elements from French society, primarily foreigners of all sorts, and put them to good use fighting far away. Their first and primary posting was in Algeria, but the French Foreign Legion has fought in all of France’s wars, even to the present day.
Fiction created a romanticized version of the Legion as a haven for lost men, criminals escaping their pasts and disappointed lovers. Most influential in this field was Beau Geste by P.C Wren, about a trio of brothers joining the unit. Naturally, the pulp magazines also loved the Legion, especially during the 1920s and ’30s. One of the most popular series of stories appeared in Argosy from 1929 to 1939, the tales of a retired Legionnaire named Thibaut Corday.
Corday is an elderly man, though his beard is still a rich cinnamon hue. He served in the Confederate army during the American Civil War before enlisting in the Legion, and has seen many strange things, which he is willing to tell to people who will listen as he smokes at an Algerian café. This first volume has six stories.
“Better than Bullets”, the title story, introduces Corday and his buddies, Yankee Bill the Elephant and Christian(ity) Jensen the Dane. They’re stationed near Casablanca and out of edible food, so Bill suggests they go on an unauthorized forage expedition. They have to leave their weapons behind, so when the trio is cornered by fanatical Muslim enemies, there’s not a bullet or blade to be had. Thus they must improvise! As might be suspected, through all of these stories Corday shows a strong prejudice against people of color and Muslims. He does admit from time to time that as the French are an invading/occupying Army, the locals do have good reason for their hostility.
“The Dance of the Seven Veils” has Yankee Bill get into an altercation with a handsome rake over a dancing girl. The real trouble starts the next morning when our heroes discover the rake is their new commanding officer, who’s taking them on a seemingly doomed mission into the Sahara Desert. The fortress they’ve been assigned to crack seems impenetrable…until a ghostly dancer appears in the desert night. Pretty obvious twist, but evocative imagery.
“An Eye for an Eye” tells the tale of feuding cousins Hyacinth LaDu and “La Carotte” who are students at the military school of St. Cyr. They are already furious with each other when a lovely young woman comes along and provides an excuse for a duel. Hyacinth puts Carrot’s eye out deliberately. Years later, the two men meet again in the Foreign Legion. One of the twists is slightly hidden by the tradition of joining the Legion under an assumed name. A chilling tale of revenge.
“The Death Watch” changes things up with a horrific tale set at sea as the few Legionnaires aboard a troop transport have to deal with a mutiny by native soldiers. Massive coincidence plays a part in the outcome.
“The Bearded Slayer” is a tale of a quite young Corday, who was inordinately proud of his fearsome beard. Unfortunately, this same beard made him the primary suspect in a series of murders in a remote Legion outpost. The tension ratchets with each killing, and the mounting evidence against our hero.
“The Mutineer”, which closes out the volume, features both the secret origin and final fate of Yankee Bill the Elephant. He loudly declares his love for the beautiful daughter of the commander, in public no less. While pursued by military police for his insolence, Bill and Corday must also deal with a native uprising. The streak of sexism that was a minor point in other stories comes to the fore here, as it uses the old “if a woman says ‘no’, and ‘go away’ and ‘I hate you’, that means you should totally keep pestering her until you can prove your manliness and she falls in love with you” plotline I know many readers despise. Exciting story though.
There’s a nice introduction to the series, and two biographical sketches of Theodore Roscoe, one printed in Argosy at the time, and a more recent one.
While this is sterling pulp writing, full of excitement and twists, some readers may find the period sexism and racism too much for their tastes. On the other hand, if you loved other French Foreign Legion stories, this is a good selection.