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Blackhearts

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Before Blackbeard struck fear into the hearts of sailors, he was a young man who wished for a life of exploration and adventure on the high seas. But promised to a Baron’s daughter and destined to follow in the footsteps of his successful merchant father, Edward “Teach” Drummond’s dreams are just that, dreams.

16-year-old Anne Barrett, orphaned daughter of a British merchant and a West Indian slave, is a penniless maid who also imagines an escape from her dreary life in Bristol, England. The two meet, and recognizing the adventurous spirit in each other, fight to overcome the conventions that do not allow them to be together.

With this beautiful cover and the back page blurb, I expected a story of pirates and adventure and swashbuckling and revenge and Blackbeard’s origin. Instead, it is a romance. Which is fine, if it is the story you are looking for. But Blackbeard is probably the most well-known and notorious pirate in history, and this novel is a love story that could have been about any two people.

That criticism out of the way, if you approach the book with no expectations of a high seas adventure, it is a very enjoyable historical romance. Teach is the wealthy son of a merchant in late 17th century England, and Anne a biracial girl forced by circumstances to become a maid. Both are educated, independent, attractive, and wishing for a different life. The development of their relationship is nice and slow, although unlikely.

This story does seize the opportunity to discuss some very serious themes: racism and interracial relationships, along with class prejudice, among others. Author Nicole Castroman presents them very authentically to the time. So while the romance is implausible given the prejudices of the era, she uses it well to illustrate those very morals.

There is something familiar about the plot, and about halfway through I remembered the story of Anne Bonny. (I loved pirates as a young girl. Too bad I hate sleeping on boats, or I totally could be one. A pirate, not a boat.) Infamous in the 18th century, Bonny was the daughter of an Irish merchant and his servant, raised in the Carolinas, who ran away to marry an unsuitable man and become a pirate. There are shades of her amazing story in Blackhearts.

I do not like the ending. It is a cliffhanger, but there is no sequel in the works. Now, if this is indeed an origin story, I guess Teach just becomes Blackbeard and off we go on our merry way, rejoicing. But if you know Blackbeard’s story, there is a HUGE gap between this story and his known one. It is an unsatisfying conclusion, with far too many loose ends.

The novel is appropriate for the YA range, but will not appeal to those looking for an adventure story. It is a boy-meets-girl romance, lovely and predictable, with a few twists thrown in for interest. If a sequel ever does appear, I would read it, for fun.

Blackhearts was published February 9th, 2016 by Simon Pulse
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