Sunday, April 26, 2015

7 Days in May | Before Treasure Island

Flint and Silver by John Drake

I actually finished this book a couple of months ago, but I didn't talk about it at the time and it ties in with something I did this week, so I'll talk about it now. I'm not usually big on prequels, but I was looking for a good pirate book to read and decided to give it a chance. And I'm totally glad I did. It does two things I don't typically like, but it does them so well that I didn't mind in the least.

First, like I said, it's a prequel. The problem with prequels is that most of the time you can see the author's methodically checking the boxes and connecting the dots that need to be checked and connected to get to whatever story the prequel leads into. But John Drake has so fleshed out his characters - not just Joe Flint and John Silver, but also Billy Bones, Israel Hands, Selena, and others - that they and their relationships are what I care about. Discovering islands and burying treasure are awesome when they come up, but they're just fun additions to the story; not the point of it.

The second thing that usually turns me off is that the plot meanders and there's not a clear resolution by the end. Flint and Silver is the first in a trilogy, so if you're adamant about getting a complete story in a single volume, you may be disappointed. But again, it's the characters who are most important in this novel and I was emotionally satisfied with the way Drake leaves them at the end, even if there are still major plot points to be resolved.

The book is well-researched both for historical accuracy and consistency with Treasure Island, but Drake is a great writer who knows to let that be background to his world and not just dump it all over the reader. I highly recommend it to fans of Treasure Island or just great pirate stories in general.

Which brings us to...

Black Sails

It took me a couple of episodes to get into the first season of Black Sails, because I kept comparing it to Flint and Silver. The Starz series is in part another prequel to Treasure Island and features the characters of Captain Flint, John Silver, and Billy Bones, but the interpretations of those characters are very different from what John Drake is doing. Drake's Flint is a brutal sadist; the Black Sails version is ruthless, but in a sneaky, conniving, sometimes even cowardly way. Drake's Silver is a man of honor who commands respect from his fellow sailors; the Black Sails version is a charming rogue, but - well - in a sneaking, conniving, sometimes even cowardly way. Drake's Billy Bones is an unthinking brute who's slavishly devoted to Flint; the Black Sails version is a good man who begins to see Flint for who he is and has to decide what to do with that information. As I mentioned above, I was completely captivated by Drake's characters, so I didn't want to let go of them and embrace Black Sails, but the more I watched the easier it became to allow both versions to live in my head.

Another thing that helps is that the tone of the show is completely different. Drake adds a lot of historical flavor to Flint and Silver, but his primary purpose is to play in the world of Treasure Island and explain how romantic, non-historical elements like buried treasure might occur in a realistic way. Black Sails on the other hand does away with the romantic stuff altogether, at least so far. Even the pirates themselves are de-romanticized and shown for the cutthroat criminals they really were. And to further support the illusion of historical accuracy, it also includes real life pirates like Anne Bonny, Jack Rackham, and Charles Vane.

It's not just ships attacking each other, either. With so many characters, there's plenty to keep everyone busy, including drama around politics, business, and romance in addition to all the actual pirating. I enjoyed it a lot, especially Zach McGowan as the terrifying, yet somehow vulnerable Charles Vane. McGowan's look and voice is sort of a cross between Liev Schreiber and Michael Wincott. I don't know how the universe produced someone that cool, but we live in a world of miracles.

Doctor Who

I finished the Christopher Eccleston season with mixed feelings. On the negative side, the resolution to the season-long Bad Wolf teasing is anticlimactic and the next-to-last episode is dated with its futuristic versions of Weakest Link and Big Brother. But for the most part, the finale featuring the rebooted Doctor's first major confrontation with the Daleks is powerfully touching. I love how the Daleks lose their freaking minds when they realize who they're up against and the Doctor absolutely knows it. But even more than that, I love the dilemma that the Daleks force the Doctor into as he has to decide if he can murder billions of people in order to save infinitely more. It's an impossible choice and what he does with it is perfect.

Rose continues to remind me why she's such a great, unique companion. She's the first I know of who actually had to make a choice between her adventures with the Doctor and the wishes of her loved ones back home. Her constant struggle with that choice - and the decisions she makes about it - make her an inspiring, heroic character. I know some people are annoyed with her, but I don't get it. She's awesome.

Star Wars: Clone Wars

We're two-thirds through Season 4 and I can't say that we're enjoying Clone Wars much more than we were last week. It was great to close Season 3 with a couple of storylines featuring original trilogy characters (plus, Wookiees!), but for every story that I'm really into, there are two that I have to make myself get through. And with so many stories being multi-part, it's a slog to spend an hour or more on a plot I'm not enjoying. There's also still the problem with Jedi forgetting to use their powers at key moments, but I think I'm becoming numb to that. Still, it's a fun world to play in and the show is starting to work on showing the darker side of Anakin, so I'm eager to keep going and see where all this leads.

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