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Book: On Stranger Tides, by Tim Powers

February 25, 2008
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OK, thought I would try something different. A pirate book! I admit, I chose this book simply because I thought the cover looked like fun. I just pulled it from the shelf and thought, hey! A skeleton pirate! Let’s try that.

If it was summer, and I was on summer vacation at my grandparents’ house, on the shady back porch on a hot day, with the option to go swimming later, and I pulled this book out from some dusty bookcase, and had nothing else to do all day, this would be the perfect book.

The pros: It was definitely fun. It was kind of silly, but it moved quickly with lots of action. There were zombie pirates and voodoo spells, and the Fountain of Youth, and Ponce de Leon, and a damsel in distress, and a puppeteer, and a mad scientist, and buried treasure, and swordplay. And Blackbeard the pirate! Yes, folks, it has all that, and more!

The cons: see, “The pros“. Heh. Just kidding. So, it wasn’t a masterpiece of literature. I left the book not really knowing the main character any more than I did when he was first introduced, and I have no idea why he was so in love with the token damsel in distress. One day, he just was (in love), and since she was in distress, why, he’d have to rescue her! So, character development was not exactly a strong point. Also, there was a hell of a lot packed into a fairly short book. It was all sort of loosely held together by a plot (or two or three), but mostly it seemed like one crazy thing after the other. Granted, it was fun, but it didn’t really make a lot of sense.

I did learn some new words, though, like loa and bocor, and I had to look up nautical terms like poop deck, because they kept going up on the ‘poop’ and I really had no idea where that was (although it made me giggle like a five-year-old). I did enjoy all the vodun (voodoo) references, because I’m definitely interested in that subject, and Blackbeard is kind of a fascinating figure no matter what. And, you know, a pirate’s life sometimes doesn’t sound too bad, you know?

After I finished the book, I looked up some of the words and characters, as well as this author. I found out that many of the characters in the book were actual historical figures, and that he (the author) had woven history and folklore throughout the book, so it was sort of historical fiction. That revelation actually made me like the book better. It sounds like this author has a small but dedicated fan base — this book got really great reviews on Amazon (obviously by fans of the author and fans of the genre). This makes me wonder how much of my not ‘getting’ the book is because I don’t usually read seafaring/pirate books, so maybe I just didn’t get what the point was. To me, it seemed like the movie Dune: you just got the high points, but the movie didn’t make much sense. You got the impression that something of substance was trying to be conveyed, but everything was all condensed and superficial and rushed. However, the book Dune was excellent. I felt like this book was like the movie version of another book, you see what I mean? Like, it was the Reader’s Digest version of itself.

Nevertheless, reading outside my comfort zone accomplished what I wanted: I am now inspired to check out other subjects, like voodoo and Blackbeard and the Fountain of Youth and maybe even another pirate book or two. Arrr!

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