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Sea Witch Paperback – June 20, 2011
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Sea Witch brings an authentic feel of the wide oceans and the Golden Age of Piracy, it is exciting with a moving believable love story but plenty of full blooded, heart-stopping action. I cannot recommend it highly enough and am holding my breath for the next in what I hope will be a long series of Sea Witch and Jesamiah Acorne chronicles. My sister has fallen totally in love with Jesamiah too. His allure is becoming a world wide sensation.
The plot of "Seawitch" is a little less convoluted than typical MacLean: Lord Worth, fabulously wealthy and quite ruthless, has made a lot of enemies in the oil business because of his cutthroat attitude. His drill rig, named Seawitch, will put the final nail in the coffin of his competitors, as it will allow him to drill at will in the ocean. His competitors decide that while they hate one another, they all hate Lord Worth even more. So they hire a ruthless "troubleshooter" to fix their problem. They don't need to know how, don't even want to know how, they just want it done.
Fortunately for Lord Worth, his two daughters (one blonde, one brunette) are in love and loved by two former police detectives/now private investigators. These two guys are your usual MacLean heroes: tough, resourceful, insubordinate (which is why they are ex-police detectives), hopelessly upright. From there, it's a cat and mouse game between the two sides to see if Seawitch gets destroyed. There's a lot of sneaking around, some violence, and a satisfying climax.
Still, by 1977, when he wrote "Seawitch," MacLean was starting to lose his talent, and after this, his books range from mediocre ("Athabasca") to dreadful ("River of Death", "Partisans"). You would do yourself a favor to go back to read books MacLean wrote between 1959 and 1971, when he kicked out an amazing string of mostly Cold War thrillers, the best of which are "Ice Station Zebra," "The Golden Rendezvous," "The Black Shrike," "The Satan Bug," "Bear Island," "Puppet on a Chain," "Where Eagles Dare," and "Night Without End." Those books -- many of which were made into movies -- are tight, tension-filled, unpredictable reads.
Once you’ve established that, this is a page-turning, entertaining read. Hollick builds in the details of pirate life both on ship and in port with a precision and depth that can only come from good historical research, but you won’t have time to notice this sturdy framework as her plot twists and surprises.
We get to know a three-dimensional young woman named Tiola just as she is cut adrift from her family and known world when her mother is suspected of being a witch and hanged for the murder of her husband. The irony, as Tiola points out, is that she is the witch, not her mother—a white witch with very handy medical skills that she eventually turns into a steady if modest income in her new surroundings. Through Tiola we watch the limitations on 18th century women—choose a loveless marriage to a rich man or try to make it alone in a world that assumes you can’t—with the piquant sauce of knowing that Tiola isn’t the helpless lass she appears to be.
The hero, Jesamiah Acorne, has a similar origin tale in the sense that he also as teenager was thrown out to make his life without family or financial support—despite his upper class start. Generally speaking, men of the 18th century had an easier time making a living than women, but then Jesamiah doesn’t have any otherworldly powers, so Tiola may not have to fight as hard as he does. What he does exploit are his natural talents for strategy, reckless courage and his dead father’s connections to the pirate world. By the time his path crosses Tiola’s (that he can remember, anyway), he is an accomplished pirate captain, perpetually in trouble, but as free as can be. Well, mostly. Prison and pirating do seem to collide at times.
These parallel stories of young people making it alone and turning themselves into the adults of their choice give this spicy tale a pleasing resonance that goes beyond “just a good story.” That they face such daunting enemies keeps the excitement high throughout. Their love story is charming and full of humor as well as sexual allure.
Nothing happens quite how you expect in this book, which is certainly how I like my books, unpredictable and fun.