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17 April 2014
“There are few men in this world who can say they have seen their father die twice. God’s truth, I might be the only one.”
Voyage of Plunder by Michele Torrey is yet another book I discovered on one of my weekly trips to the Portage library. I didn’t do a whole lot of socializing in my late teens. You know how people object to homeschooling because they’re afraid their kids will end up badly socialized and unprepared to assimilate into the culture at large? Well, I’m afraid I may have fed the stereotype. (Not my brother, who also happened to be homeschooled. He didn’t know a stranger.) However, I’m pretty sure it had more to do with personality type than homeschooling. Anyway, the most exciting thing I could think of doing at that time in my life was going to the library. There was such a sense of anticipation as I walked through the doors of the library and lost myself in row after row of books. What would I find this time?
Back to the topic at hand. It was my habit to subject new books to “the first page” test. That is, I’d pick up a book, read the first page and if it didn’t grab me, I’d put it right back. I’ve found that test to be quite accurate for contemporary fiction. Mind you, this doesn’t work for books written prior to 1900. At any rate, I picked up Voyage of Plunder and read the first page. It captured me from the first several lines, so I added it to my collection. I made short work of that book once I got home and it now sits on my own bookshelf and belongs to that special classification, “My Favorite Fiction.”
Daniel Markham lives with his widower father, a wealthy merchant, in 18th century Boston, Massachusetts. As a small child, Daniel has foggy memories of men slipping into his home in the evening to talk with his father, share a meal and stay the night. “They slipped in and out like ghosts, shadows dancing from wall to wall. They talked in low whispers with my father. If the weather was warm, I would lie in my bed and listen to the whispers.” One of these men, Josiah Black, was Daniel’s favorite. As Daniel describes, “Ofttimes he sat me on his lap as I alternately turned my gaze from Josiah to the fire and back to Josiah again, pulling my blanket close. Josiah was tall. His skin was pale, his nose strong and sharp, his hair black and shining as a crow’s feathers. His eyes were like wells of ink, and he smelled of tobacco and rum. It fast became my favorite smell.” Suddenly, these men stop coming to see Daniel’s father and with their disappearance, Mr. Markham becomes worried and anxious. After Mr. Markham marries a delicate young woman (Faith), he determines a warmer climate would be better for her health. But it soon becomes clear that Faith’s health may be the least of his worries. En route to his new Jamaican plantation, Mr. Markham’s ship is attacked by pirates led by none other than Josiah Black. Mr. Markham is killed, his wife sent back to Newport and Daniel kept as hostage. Angry and bitter, Daniel determines to see Josiah hang for what he has done. Strangely, Josiah is patient with Daniel’s outbursts of anger. In spite of Daniel’s rage, Josiah protects and looks after him. It is only after months of living among the pirates that Daniel finally learns why. Once Josiah reveals his identity, Daniel is overcome with indecision. How should he respond to Josiah? How can he live a life of integrity on a pirate ship?
One of the things I liked best about this book was the development of Daniel’s character. After his father is murdered, he is full of rage and hatred towards the me, and specifically Josiah Black, for what they have done. He begins his life on the pirate ship by looking down on these wicked men from a very lofty moral height. In essence, his attitude is, “They killed my father. They are inherently wicked. I have not murdered anyone. I am inherently good. Therefore, I am justified in despising them and wishing God’s wrath upon them.” As the story progresses, and Daniel is more and more tempted to take part in the pirating lifestyle, he finally begins to see that he really is no different than the pirates. Though theological terms like “sin nature” and “total depravity” are never specifically mentioned, we see the reality of those truths work out in Daniel’s life. The thrill of forbidden pleasures—violence, plunder and wealth—begin to work a change in Daniel’s heart even while he tries to hold himself above the rest of the men on the ship. In the end, Daniel is humbled by his own sin nature and forced to view himself as a broken, sinful young man instead, as far from righteousness and perhaps even more so than the pirates on the ship.
I also appreciated the complicated and mysterious character of Josiah Black. Although the story is narrated by Daniel, the story is almost more about Josiah. There are so many questions that pop up while reading the book. Josiah is a wanted man for crimes of piracy and a sizeable reward is offered to anyone who can capture him. He is a fierce and dangerous man. So, why then is he so kind to Daniel? Why does he put up with Daniel’s threats of vengeance? Why did he turn to piracy in the first place? All these questions and more are answered quite satisfactorily. His final act of self-sacrifice at the very end fosters my admiration and makes me wish he were more than a fictional character.
What I don’t like about the book: Human depravity is laid out as clear as day. But no solution to depravity is offered. That would be my only critique. Daniel ends the story, a broken young man, thoroughly humbled and sorrowful. Josiah Black pays the ultimate price for Daniel’s crimes and Daniel goes on to take care of his father’s widow and perform other good deeds to sort of pay for his sins. But there is no real redemption. Nevertheless, the book is fascinating, the characters compelling and the historical detail is more than educational.
So, get the book, read it and let me know how you enjoyed it!
“Josiah looked to where my pistol, still in its sash, was pointed at his belly, my finger, indeed, on the trigger. Suddenly he barked with laughter, released his hold, and offered me a hand, helping me to my feet. ‘Well done, Daniel, my boy!’ Still laughing, looking pleased, he clapped me around the shoulders while I grinned with satisfaction, having bested him at last. Suddenly my grin froze rigidly and I realized what I was doing…Guilt slammed through me like a cannon blast and roughly shrugged out of his grasp…I picked up my daggers from the deck and hardened my voice. ‘Just because I’m learning to fight doesn’t mean I’m a pirate. I still despise you for what you did and will see you hang.’ Then, to my shock, Josiah’s expression grew dark and he thrust his face into mine… ‘No one hangs Josiah Black,’ he whispered between clenched teeth. ‘No one. Not even you, Daniel Markham. And I will kill anyone who tries.’”