Containing exquisite historical imagery and diction in addition to brutal sensory detail of what life was like in 1700’s London and the Caribbean, particularly regarding the slave trade are portrayed in Emma Rose Millar’s and Kevin Allen’s Five Guns Blazing. The word choices, spelling, and dialogue are not only authentic to the time period, they contain a palpable amount of emotional heft.
Laetitia Beedham, the daughter of a criminal, ends up on the ‘Revenge,’ piloted by known pirate John ‘Calico Jack’ Rackham. When Rackham and his two lady friends, Anne Bonny and Mary Read, are captured by pirate hunter Jonathan Barnet, Beedham must save her friends while a price hangs over her own head.
Laetitia Beedham’s story begins at age 11 as she watches her chronically reprehensible mother sentenced to a workhouse. Since no provisions are made for the motherless at the time, Laetitia joins her mother in the workhouse disguised as a boy and referred to as “Nathaniel.” Her time in there is short and tragic, but she makes a few friends who introduce her to a life with a slightly better potential for a girl in her circumstances.
After her mother offends the law again, both mother and daughter are tossed onto the brutal steer of a ship on its way to the Caribbean to work off the transportation sentence. As a temporary slave, Laetitia learns a few hard lessons about what existence is like for those poor people chained to a life of permanent servitude and unforgiving masters.
Halfway through the book, the pirate ship arrives and Beedham’s mother, true to her nature, sells Laetitia for five guineas to the infamous pirate, ‘Calico Jack’ Rackham, in exchange for her daughter’s maidenhead. Known on the ship only as “Beedham,” Laetitia is constantly unsure of her place, looking for anyone to give her the nurturing that she didn’t get from her birth mother – especially from Pierre Bouspeut, who (like Jack, Mary, and Anne,) is a true-to-life character. In pirates, Laetitia finds unexpected allies, people who care for her and help her along the way. Much to the delight of the reader, these characters aren’t carbon-copy stereotypes of pirates we’ve come to know and expect.
There are many elements of story that work to tie the character, Laetitia, firmly in place. We get to know her and grow to love her as the thread of her tale is woven into historical characters’ narrative. In Laetitia, we see a bit of Cinderella as well as many of the Caribbean folk tales, which only lends flavor and familiarity to her plight. Sometimes she has trouble reflecting and learning not to trust those who betray her, yet the authors’ purposeful use of significant poetic symbolism adds much-needed justice to Laetitia’s tragic tale.
Though this book is advertised as a pirate novel, the pirates don’t show up until almost halfway through. When they do, though, the story picks up a significant pace. Knowing that Calico Jack, Pierre Bouspeut, Anne Bonny, and Mary Reed were real people adds to the overall historical appeal.
Five Guns Blazing is a dark, rich, historical 18th-century tale that weaves real pirates into a fictional story with many unexpected twists and turns. A must read for those interested in immersing themselves in 18th-century life, textures, and shadows.