The Brotherhood of the Black Flag by Ian Nathaniel Cohen

The Brotherhood of the Black Flag by Ian Nathaniel CohenBetween gobbling up Hornblower and a fascination with deep waters, this book easily caught my eye. I was not expecting it to have such a traditional, and therefore predictable, plot, but ultimately, The Brotherhood of the Black Flag was a fun read with compelling battles and likeable characters.

The main character McNamara has significant character flaws, including being a bit of a paladin while not smart enough to recognize dissembling, but he does show some character growth. Captain Reynard, in contrast, offers a more complex element in his transition between deadly pirate and honorable citizen. Not that McNamara didn’t have his likeable traits, and he certainly knew his way around a sword (though slow to recognize the weaknesses over the strengths at times). Catalina is a beautiful blend of damsel in distress and self-sufficiency, if a little too trusting in the power of love.

The writing has several weaknesses, especially in the beginning chapters. These read more as a recap of a missing book 1 than an introduction to this story. At the same time, if you’re looking for a fun pirate tale with clever sword fights and some interesting ship-to-ship battles, you’ll find it here. The story reminded me of playing the original Sid Meier’s Pirates, and the maneuvers read true to my knowledge of sea and sword.

Oddly, where the disclaimer at the front made me expect distasteful but generally accepted views of the 1700s, the characters seemed more true to the non-romanticized and yet modernized tellings in their attitudes. The women were neither saints nor brainless weaklings (a pleasant surprise), and neither were they caricatures. The depiction of slavery seemed accurate to my understanding without dwelling on the horrific details, something not true of maritime punishments not for squeamish readers.

The historical background felt solid, the story events blending into the politics of the time with the Jacobite unrest and a despised king. After the beginning chapters, for the most part it integrated better into the story (where both the history and McNamara’s personal history stops the story dead several times). I’m glad I didn’t let the rough start turn me aside because the later writing issues were much more tolerable, especially once I understood what type of story it was. I think it would have been a stronger book if it started with his arrival in Jamaica, but then the necessary historical grounding would still need to blend smoothly into the story after that point.

The endnotes are worthy of a mention. They discuss some of the research the author completed for this story, and the sword fighting, come to life as well as giving more detail on the historical events used as the foundation upon which this tale is set.

If you’re expecting a brand new take on the era of piracy or masterful writing technique, you’ll be disappointed. If, however, you seek to be entertained as you explore the twisted politics and duplicitous people of the time through the perspective of a man willing to sacrifice everything for the greater good, there’s a lot to enjoy. Despite the traditional plot, the characters do come up with some interesting solutions to seemingly impossible problems while the difference between loyalty bought by threat and coin or by deed is a strong element.

P.S. I received this book through NetGalley in return for an honest review.

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