Sunday, 7 August 2011

Skull and Bones, by John Drake

What a great name for a writer of pirate tales, eh?  John Drake.  Not that Francis Drake was a pirate (quick look on Wikipedia has just told me that Francis Drake was a privateer, which is not so dissimilar from a pirate!) but I think he knew some things about boats.

I don't know anything about boats, except that they make me feel incredibly sick.  But I love how I can follow three whole books chock full of nautical terminology without breaking a sweat or suffering a headache.  I don't know how John Drake does that, but I do always know exactly what he's talking about - at least I think I do.  He doesn't patronise me by sticking in a landlubbing and stupid character who needs to have everything explained to them either.  He just chucks his readers in at the deep end and expects them to swim.

So, this, Skull and Bones, was the final part of the Treasure Island prequel trilogy - should the books be called a trequel?  Yes, I think so.  Was this book satisfying?  I think so.  Did it lead on to Treasure Island nicely?  Certainly.  Would I recommend the trequel?  Wholeheartedly.  Now, I would not say that I was disappointed with Skull and Bones, not at all: it was excellent, stunningly written by a master of his craft, an absolute joy to read.  I could read ten more, twenty more.

With a prequel, you necessarily have to manoeuvre the story into position to allow the main story to take over smoothly without too much of a change of tack (did you see what I did there?  A nice mash up of nautical metaphors).  That was all fine, and I could see that two particular characters had to be brought back together in order for both parts of the map not to be lost.  But what I did miss in this book was Flint's evilness.  In the first and second books, ooh, he was bad - a finer baddy you could not have wished for.  He was nasty, and his favourite pastimes were inflicting terrible injuries on anyone he cared to mutilate, and then watching them die gruesome deaths.  Another person's pain never failed to make him giggle, he was an absolute delight to read, wonderful.  I have never enjoyed a baddy more.  It was clear to see that Drake knew the character of Flint inside out (as far as Flint allowed him to, though I am sure Flint guarded his most secret thoughts from Drake), because he was so well written, so vivid and alive.  As was Long John Silver - but Silver was glorious in Skull and Bones, and I liked him just as much as I ever did.  But poor Joseph Flint had lost his sparkle for the most part, and I missed it.  It was part of the story, and it worked so nicely, really it did, the taming of Flint - however short-lived - but still I missed his games.  I'm sure John Drake probably did too.

Long John Silver captured my heart from the beginning, and he held it fast until the end.  What maiden could fail to be won over by such niceties as 'bugger me, clap a hitch, you filthy swabs!'?  Not I.  I loved him, and always will, no matter how I find him to have been drawn by Stevenson in Treasure Island.

It's Selena who I still can't get on with.  I still find her a bit insipid, a bit whiney, too indecisive.  I want to give her a slap and tell her to decide who and what she wants.  And I can't really see what Flint and Silver see in her, except that she's stunningly beautiful, and the only woman the two pirates encounter in their years of sailing back and forth across the Atlantic (apart from some haggard old whores*!)

But all in all, a bloody good read.  I am sad that my seafaring adventures are over, because I know that Treasure Island, however good it is, will not have the humour and wit that Drake infused his stories with, and it won't have the tantalisingly naughty undertone that he sometimes plays with.  But I have hopes of it being exciting, and look forward to meeting again some of the characters that I feel I know so well now: Billy Bones, Israel Hands, Black Dog, Ben Gunn, and not to mention Long John himself.

Bravo, John Drake, bravo!

*John Drake's word, not mine; he also calls them 'tarts'.

I wrote a review of the other two books in the series a few months ago, Flint and Silver, and Pieces of Eight.  You can read that review here, on HubPages.

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