I think in another life, I must have been a pirate. It’s the only (acceptable) explanation I can think of for my love of books about scallywags and scoundrels. Give me a morally ambiguous character with a dark agenda and a shady crew, and you’ve got my attention.
Methinks it has to do with the fact that those types of characters are so much more interesting than other, more honorable and straight-laced lads (and ladies). There are always motives other than are initially apparent, hidden perils, and higher stakes. And muskets, and knives, and all manners of explosives!
I’ve read a couple of books lately that absolutely sing to my black heart, so I thought I’d tell you a little bit about one, just in case there are readers out there who share my love of questionable characters and their equally dodgy exploits. It’s a proper pirate-y book, caravel and all.
The Girl From Anywhere by Heidi Heilig
“It is not difficult to tell the future of a woman who only has a past.”
This book is extremely unique in that it’s a time travel book, but not really. I mean, yes, it has time travel, but it’s not wholly about time travel.
The plot is very intricate and complicated (but not overly hard to follow), but here’s the gist of it: there’s a crew of time-traveling pirates who navigate from place to place and time to time using maps of all sorts as a means of transportation. Maps can only be used once (a navigation is a one-way trip), and any map can be sailed into – even ones of mythical places (hello – Atlantis, anyone?). Here’s what you really need to know: it’s (mostly) set in 19th century Hawaii, there’s a lost love, a heist, oodles at stake, and a pocket-sized dragon.
One of the things that immediately drew me to this book was its use of maps. I am obsessed with maps. One of the first things my dad taught me as a kid was how to read maps. He believed that as long as I knew how to read a map, I could never get lost. (I can’t tell you how many times this skill has been useful. GPS? Who needs it? Not this girl.) When my grandmother died, one of the things I kept of hers was her collection of National Geographic maps, saved from the magazines she had collected since the 50s. Anyway, I super duper smooch maps of all kinds. And this book played right into that love. Cartography, authenticity, accuracy, dates, places – these are all elements which advance the plot of this book. And the introduction of maps from all different places/times lend a broad scope to the narrative, and makes history, mythology, and the future all immediately relevant. (So, just, cool and clever, and #writergoals.)
This book also has a fantastic cast of characters. The diversity in the crew of the Temptation is authentic to the situation and the setting. It’s nonsensical to think that a pirate crew would be composed all of one shade of the rainbow. (Insert eye-roll emoji here.) Nix, the main character, is of caucasian/Chinese descent; Kashmir (<3) is Persian; Bee is African and a lesbian; and Slate, the captain of the ship, wrestles with drug addiction. I felt like the characters ring as authentic without being overtly token, and without their status being pushy. Nothing feels forced; nothing feels patronizing. There is no political aim here; it’s just a very real example of an author being brave enough to write reality.
It’s books like this one that make me appreciate YA literature. It represents all the best things fiction has to offer: action, adventure, a moral conundrum, strong female characters, strong male characters, diversity, education… I could go on for a while. I’d recommend it as an excellent read to anyone interested in time travel, pirates, pre-Union Hawaii, maps, ships, or pocket-dragons. I’d give it a PG rating (it’s clean, with very few mild expletives), and would have no problem handing it to any of my tween/teen patrons. Additionally, it’s part of a duology (yay!), so there’s more Nix, Kash, and Slate after you’ve finished this one! (The sequel is called The Ship Beyond Time.)
And if you like books like this, here are a couple good choices for read-alikes. (And strangely, all three of these books are parts of duologies):
Passenger by Alexandra Bracken This book features Etta, a new time traveler who must search through time and space (oh, be still my Doctor Who-loving heart) for answers to her past, and for an object of treasure to help unravel secrets of her family and their strange gifts. Though I didn’t enjoy this title quite as much, it’s still a really fun read, based on an interesting take on time-navigation. This book is followed by Wayfarer.
Blackhearts by Nicole Castroman Ahoy, fans of Blackbeard! Though there be no time travel in this book, there are pirates aplenty! As well as scoundrels and scalawags, and all manner of roguish rakes. Here be the story of Blackbeard in his early years, and of the girl who loves him, then breaks his heart, setting him on a path of plunder and destruction. And oh, what a story it is. This book is followed by Blacksouls.
One of my very favorite parts of my job as a librarian is getting to recommend great books like these to people who come into my library. And though I love to read, and would do it anyway, I am grateful that I get to work in a place that allows me to combine many of my loves (reading, writing, programming, people) in such exciting ways.
Until next time!