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The Dark Frigate Hardcover – May 17, 2005
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This book won the 1924 John Newbery Medal. I admit I was a bit apprehensive about reading the book as a result of certain evaluations, but now that I have it doesn't seem to me that it was as bad as they implied. Yes, some of the women are less than virtuous, but in contrast Philip Marsham himself is a model of honesty and loyalty. He didn't come across to me generally as having "an eye towards comely women" but simply as a young man of nineteen smiling at "a comely lass" who caught his attention and whom he decided that he wanted to marry. A little bad language is found along with a lot of references to drinking alcohol, and I will grant that some of the murder descriptions are rather blunt, especially that of Will Canty. For that reason I would not recommend it for small or sensitive children, but after all it is a pirate story, and there is really nothing worse than what one would read in Treasure Island or a G. A. Henty novel. Charles Hawes's first novel was The Mutineers in 1920, though not published until 1925. He won a Newbery Honor Award in 1922 for The Great Quest, but then died shortly after the publication of The Dark Frigate, and his widow had to accept the Medal. If you are looking for a rousing seafaring adventure with bloody battles, brutal buccaneers, and a bold, spirited hero, The Dark Frigate will fill the bill.
I'm giving the Kindle edition one star specifically because it has typesetting problems. On nearly every page, there are spaces missing between multiple words, making it difficult to parse.
For a little over a dollar maybe I shouldn't have expected it to be a high-production-quality edition were it not for the fact that this book is in the public domain (i.e. no longer under copyright) and available for free from websites that collect such works like Project Gutenberg.
It doesn't seem ethical for Amazon to sell classic ebooks that are legally available for free when there appears to be, in this case, no added value to the edition being sold. If there is some kind of added value, I would like an explanation for what Amazon thinks it is.
The moral of the story: If the book that you're looking for was published a long time ago, do a web search for it before spending money on it.
The story itself is not bad, but the thing that will hang kids up these days is the archaic vocabulary - rare or extinct words involving ships, sailing, and the weather - that Hawes uses liberally throughout this book. It's not just the occasional "Avast thou!" either. I can't judge whether he's using the terms convincingly or believably: I just know it's gonna slow anybody down.
And as for using this with ESL learners, you can totally forget it. It's not just the sea vocabulary, either. It's the overall writing style. Some of the book even drifts into the second person.
Here's a sample:
"Of some she spoke thus in all truth; of others, though she knew it would cost her life, she craftily and stoutly lied. And at last she came to Philip Marsham, whose heart chilled when he met the sharp eyes that had looked so hard into his own in Bideford long before. "Nay, my lord, he is a handsome blade, but I never saw him ere this." Some smiled and sniggered; but the old woman shrugged, and lifted her brows, and stood before the Court, wrinkled and bent by years of wickedness. Say what you will of her sins, her courage and loyalty were worthy of a better cause." (p. 221)