In 1996, the discovery of the Queen Anne’s Revenge, the sunken ship belonging to the infamous pirate, Captain Blackbeard, captured imaginations worldwide. It has taken decades of painstaking work to raise parts of the ship and its contents and last week, a miraculous discovery was revealed.
More than 300 years after it sunk, conservators of the Queen Anne’s Revenge uncovered sixteen tiny paper fragments hidden in a cannon chamber at the rear of the ship. They were wrapped in a soggy, gunpowder-covered wad of textile that had probably been used as a plug to save the cannons’ muzzles from the elements, but had likely preserved the precious paper too. What’s even more miraculous is that from the seven tiny scraps that were still legible, historians were able to work out what book they were from – Captain Edward Cooke’s A Voyage to the South Sea, written in 1712.
So it seems that Blackbeard and his men enjoyed a tale of adventure on the high seas as much as the rest of us, and to celebrate, here’s our pick of five most spectacular, swashbuckling pirate reads!
5. Frenchman’s Creek by Daphne Du Maurier
Frenchman’s Creek follows Lady Dona St. Columb as she flees her oppressive, meaningless life in London for the sanctuary of her husband’s remote Cornish estate. In search of peace and solitude, she instead meets Cornwall’s most wanted man. Jean-Benoit Aubéry is a French pirate who – like her – is ready to gamble his life for a moment of joy. This book has all the classic hallmarks of Du Maurier – danger, glory, passion and sacrifice – with a healthy dose of yo-ho-ho to boot.
4. Pirate Latitudes by Michael Crichton
Crichton is better known as the author of Jurassic Park, so already we know he has a knack for imagination and the biggest of thrills. This book was published after his death in 2009 and follows pirate Captain Hunter on his quest to raid a Spanish galleon ship off the coast of Jamacia in 1665. Port Royal provides a crackling backdrop of cut-throat taverns, brothels and skulduggery, and the relentless action and sword-edge suspense in this rollicking adventure will barely let you catch your breath.
3. Cinnamon and Gunpowder by Eli Brown
The year is 1819, and renowned chef Owen Wedgwood has been kidnapped by the ruthless pirate Mad Hannah Mabbot. He will be spared, she tells him, so long as he puts exquisite food in front of her every Sunday without fail. While Wedgwood attempts to satisfy his captor with feats such as tea-smoked eel and pineapple-banana cider, he realizes that Mabbot herself is under siege. Hunted by a deadly privateer and plagued by a saboteur, she pushes her crew past exhaustion. Yet there is a method to Mabbot's madness, and as the Flying Rose races across the ocean, Wedgwood learns to rely on the bizarre crew members he once feared. Surprisingly touching and endlessly original, with the most delicious food ever served aboard a pirate ship.
2. The Tears of Dark Water by Corban Addison
This is a story about modern piracy by the internationally bestselling author. Successful American couple Daniel and Vanessa’s marriage is floundering and they hope their long-anticipated round-the-world sailing trip will save it. Across the world in Somalia, Ismail is living a life of crime at odds with everything his parents taught him, but in hope of rescuing his kidnapped sister. Their lives collide with damaged FBI investigator, Paul, when he’s sent to resolve a hostage situation at sea, and none of them will ever be the same again. Across continents and oceans, through storms and civil wars, their paths converge in a single, explosive moment. It is a moment that will test them, and break them, but that will also leave behind a glimmer of hope: that out of the ashes of tragedy the seeds of justice and reconciliation can grow, not only for themselves but also for Somalia itself.
1. On Stranger Tides by Tim Powers
If you like your pirates with a dash of the fantastical, On Stranger Tides is the best of the best. Famously the inspiration behind the Pirates of the Caribbean movie franchise, it follows the story of John Chandagnac, a man on a mission for vengeance who finds himself forced to join a pirate crew and who must swiftly learn to handle a mainsail and wield a cutlass in order to survive. Set in the Golden Age of piracy in the 18th Century, Powers mixes elegant writing with cameos from real historical figures such as Blackbeard himself, and a whole universe of black magic. Hold your breath as you creep pass zombies, ghosts and the scurviest of sea dogs, and marvel as the lines between fiction and historical fact are blurred.