Thursday, November 20, 2008

Book review - Silver: My Own Tale As Written by Me with a Goodly Amount of Murder by Edward Chupack

Avast, my hearties, for here be pirates! Inspired by Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson, Silver: My Own Tale As Written by Me with a Goodly Amount of Murder is the story of the infamous Long John Silver in his own bloodthirsty, treasure-hungry words: how he came to be the scourge of the northern and southern seas, from beggar boy to pirate captain.

As the novel opens, an elderly and ill Silver has been captured and is being taken back to England to be hung for all his dastardly deeds. He has asked for and been given parchment and ink and is setting forth his true history and, since he is gold -obsessed, he also recounts his lifelong quest for the greatest treasure of all. He can’t help himself: he is brutal, bloodthirsty and ruthless, but he is also a braggart and a storyteller and can keep his secrets no longer.

Silver begins at his beginning, an orphan in Bristol, England, who is sold by his tavern-keeper employer to the pirate Black John for a few paltry coins. Silver grows up on Black John’s ship, the Linda Maria, and soon finds his calling as a pirate. He loves the ship, speaking of her in terms of adoration usually reserved for beautiful women, and he loves piracy, especially the looting and killing portions. In fact, this is Silver's biggest issue with Black John: the captain just doesn’t scuttle enough ships.

As time goes on, Silver leads a mutiny and takes the Linda Maria for his own, and then the killing really kicks into high gear. The crew is as loyal to him as pirates can be for he makes them very, very rich. But very, very rich is just not enough for Long John Silver. One of his shipmates, taken on board during Black John’s tenure, is young Edward who has in his possession a family Bible. Hidden in the Bible’s pages are ciphers and clues leading to the greatest of all treasures. Edward shows the puzzles to Silver who is quickly intrigued, and they spend the greater part of their outlaw lives traversing the seas, hunting the treasure.

Long John Silver is a blowhard, arrogant and devious, and his story is a highly entertaining one. The narrative jumps around as he recalls different personages and events that he wishes to recount. As the title states, there is a “goodly amount of murder” in here, told extremely matter-of-factly. Pirates do not labor under a burden of conscience: Silver is a deft hand at killing and he’s proud of it.

In between Silver’s narrative of his life are interludes during which his present captive condition breaks in. A fever has him in its grips and he rants and raves at the sea captain who is delivering him back to England; this captain was once a shipmate of his and Silver is quite resentful at the betrayal. It is during these interludes that the pirate sets forth the clues to the hidden treasure for his captor (and the reader) to decipher. DaVinci Code-like, there are passages from scripture, alphanumeric phrases and pictographs to be puzzled over.

Chupack makes it clear in the Author’s Note at the end of the book that while Silver was inspired by Treasure Island, his novel is not a retelling. Long John Silver was his favorite character in Treasure Island and he had fun expanding the role, “creat[ing] a monster in Silver.” In addition, Chupack surrounds Silver with a nasty cast of characters, some of whom will be recognizable to fans of Stevenson’s book, including Billy Bones, Ben Gunn, Smollet and a version of Jim Hawkins, but most of whom are brand new to the tale and plenty sinister.

It isn’t necessary to have read Treasure Island to enjoy Silver: indeed, I’ve never attempted Stevenson’s classic and I found Chupack’s tale of piracy and duplicity to be easily accessible and great fun. Silver: My Own Tale As Written by Me with a Goodly Amount of Murder is rollicking good fare to be enjoyed by old salts and landlubbers alike.

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