3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
I was hoping this would be in a similar vein to the great, unparalleled and utterly marvelous memoirs of H. Flashman Esq. If that is what you're hoping for, you'll be disappointed; it is a very different kettle of fish.
McDonald Fraser has written a meta-textual swashbuckler, replete with authorial comments, self-conscious in-jokes, gleeful anachronisms and cinematic references. This is a "marmite" matter - you'll either love this kind of thing or hate it. I would be displaying a personal bias if I marked the book down on solely that account. While I very much enjoy the accurate historical context which sends a shiver down the spine as Flashman lurches from near-miss to almost-disaster, I was prepared to hold my fire and read the book on its merits.
Sadly, I do not think McDonald Fraser pulls it off. The anachronisms are too many, too silly, and too jarring. But that is not all. The action sequences are written without the light touch we are used to, and the plot is too predictable, too repetitive. The humour doesn't work because none of the characters - not even the Flashman-like Colonel Blood - is sufficiently fully rounded and human, so we don't care enough about their misadventures, while the constant anachronisms undermine the effectiveness of the "in-period" stuff.
This could have been a fantastic book if Fraser had given it his best shot. Clearly he wanted to do something different, and he was getting on by the time he wrote it - but oh, we can only mourn the novel we didn't get; the one which might have consisted of Colonel Blood's narrative in plea for another free pardon, after events rooted in the real events of the Spanish Main. History is quite exciting enough without needing to jazz it up with lumps of Hollywood flummery.
25 of 27 people found the following review helpful
on 25 October 2004
Oh how good is this book? I first read it after I caught my dad chortling away with his nose stuck into it and now we have two copies in the house (one each) so we don't fight over it any more! Yes, the dialogue may be corny but that's what makes it so good. The action speeds across the seven seas and the modern touches are perfect. It's entirely silly and over-the-top but on a rainy Saturday I suggest you curl up with a mug of sometihng hot and sweet (possibly with a tot of medicinal brandy) and follow Long Ben Avery et al from the Atlantic to the Caribbean and all over the oceans, wi' a wannion. If you like swash-buckling old-fashioned adventure with a sense of merciless glee please read this book.
23 of 26 people found the following review helpful
on 23 March 2003
I read this book when I was about 16 and almost two decades on it's still one of my favourites. Yes, it's very silly but it's silly in a way that pokes affectionate fun at those wonderful swash-buckling hollywood movies such as "Anne of the Indies" and "Blackbeard the Pirate". The characters are a mostly drawn from history (Colonel Blood, Ben Avery, "Calico Jack" Rackham and Anne Bonny were all real people) though they are all portrayed in a wonderful Hollywood way. This story has everything; A handsome hero, a caddish anti-hero, flashing eyed ladies o' quality, fierce indians, lost cities, buried treasure, desperate sword-fights on desert islands, d'ye see? Tall ships crewed by swarthy rogues in head scarves and eye-patches, spanish soldiery in breastplates and morions crying, "Caramba!" and failing to shoot straight. Damsels in distress, torture, danger, adventure and vasty booty, har, har, look'ee, wi' a curse!! The only similar concept that I can think of was "Strike!" by The Comic Strip.
At the end there is a short treatise on the historical characters. Believe me some of their stories are much stranger than anything dreamed up by Hollywood. Anyway, unless you are such a fan of Flashman that nothing else will do, I can heartily recommend "The Pyrates"
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
The perfect companion for all history enthusiasts is the ROMA VICTRIX WINE BEAKER Calix Imperium, Roma Victrix Pewter wine beaker
George Macdonald Fraser has made a career of deconstructing classic genre fiction. The Flashman series is part homage, part parody, part mutation. The Pyrates carries the parody even further, this time instead of exploring every nook of the Victorian Empire, Fraser takes a run at the swashbuckling tales of Jeffery Farnol, Rafael Sabatini, Captain Johnson, Michael Curtiz, and dozens of others. The Flashman novels have footnotes, this one has a bibliography!
The tale follows Colonel Thomas Blood, who’d be a rakehell rapscallion, if only his luck would turn for just a minute. Alas, he is doomed to be overshadowed by handsome Ben Avery, the handsomest man in the Royal Navy. Avery is charged with delivering the Crown of Madagascar to the ruler of that strategic nation (that is, an insect plagued bit of swamp the French happen to covet).
Ben can’t help it if every damsel he passes falls violently, madly, obsessively in love with him. The only hitch is that the International Brotherhood of Pirates under their ferocious shop-steward Calico Jack Rackham are out to seize the crown, rescue their comrade Black Sheba (who is panting with lust for Avery) and save up for retirement. Complicating affairs is the disgusting Don Lardo, a villain of Sydney Greenstreet proportions and the Marquis de Sade’s predilections. Will the pirates and the Royal Navy put aside their animosity to unite against the real foe; Spaniards in possession of portable wealth? Pretty much, yeah.
For the record, Fraser’s hero Colonel Blood is NOT a knock-off of Sabatini’s Captain Blood. Rather he is a fictionalization of the real Col. Blood, an noted Irish schemer who was something of a one-man crime-wave. When he wasn’t plotting to overthrow the monarchy (or restore it, Blood’s politics were a bit murky), he was apt to do a bit of looting. Blood actually directed the robbery of the century: he stole the Crown Jewels.Though he was immediately caught, Blood also managed a reversal that would have made O.J. envious. Blood was sentenced to a slow painful death (a seventeenth century specialty). But after being granted a interview with His Majesty the King, Blood managed to wangle a pardon and a Royal handshake. I guess the whole “sentenced to death thing” was just one of those crazy misunderstandings…
The Pyrates is a jolly romp through the cliches of the pirate tales of yore. Sometimes the humor gets a bit repetitious, but then there are gems like a description of a determined pirate chief as a man who, in modern times, would make a good Paratroop sergeant or a moderate Labour MP. Mr. Blair, take note.
14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
Author George MacDonald Fraser, the accomplished British author of the FLASHMAN PAPERS and the Private McAuslan trilogy, has also toiled as a Hollywood scriptwriter. And he's been fascinated by pirate stories all his life. Thus, in THE PYRATES, the reader is treated to what could serve as the script for the funniest, most outrageous buccaneer saga ever not put on film.
The hero of THE PYRATES is Captain Ben Avery, RN, the handsomest, most chivalrous, noblest, most incorruptible, bravest, most dutiful, and most unseducible man ever to wield an officer's sword on behalf of His Majesty. In Avery, as with every other of the novel's characters, Fraser has lovingly created a caricature. In any case, the time is "the old and golden days of England". King Charles occupies the throne. Ben is ordered to secretly convey a priceless crown to the King of Madagascar. On the same outbound ship are Admiral Lord Rooke and his gorgeous daughter Vanity. Of course, seafaring rascals capture the vessel, steal the crown, abandon Ben on a sandspit, and sell Vanity into white slavery. The tabloids (!) blame Avery for the debacle, and the remainder of the book has our superhero valiantly struggling to rescue honor, crown and Vanity from assorted scoundrels and near things. Of course, even the villains are occasionally endearing, especially if they're British, e.g. Colonel Blood, RA (Cashiered), a darker version of Avery without the ethics or meticulous dress code. And, needless to say, Captain Ben is besotted with Vanity, though his appreciation for her considerable charms is entirely platonic, anything more prurient unbecoming an officer and a gentleman.
Since a small movie plays in my mind whenever I read fiction, the chief delight of this swashbuckling caper is the way Fraser attaches period-piece incongruities to the plot which result in hilarious "sight gags" and other absurdities. Contemplate the following: laundry chutes in a Spanish galleon, meal-seating announcements aboard a pirate ship, buccaneers getting drunk and rowdy on captured Perrier, eau de cologne by the barrel or the handy bucket size, a pirate chief's stock portfolio, the deplorable lack of Kleenex in a fetid orlop prison, shipboard ruffians being entertained by a puppet show, pirate disability insurance, the limited number of headsets for men set adrift in small boats, threats of a horrible death by bicycle pump (?), or the French buccaneers' battle cry of "Remember Dien Bien Phu!" Imagine what Mel Brooks could do with this material!
THE PYRATES is about fifty pages too long. Those parts of the non-stop action that include the South American Indian tribe and the insanely evil Spanish Viceroy, Don Lardo, were unnecessary digressions better left on the cutting room floor. However, that minor flaw didn't prevent me from laughing out loud on several occasions, causing my wife to throw alarmed glances my way. Yes, I think even the Queen would be amused.
15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on 1 March 2003
George MacDonald Fraser obviously had great fun writing this and it is a joy to join him and his characters on their adventures. Every pirate and adventure cliche going is in this and then some, hilariously ludicrous plotting, corny pirate speak and devilish villany abound. If you are a Flashman fan you may not go for this one, it's far more over the top than those books, much funnier though, a great way to spend a weekend.
on 27 June 2012
I'm a sucker for the great Errol Flynn films - Robin Hood, The Sea Hawk, Captain Blood...the beautiful Olivia de Havilland and the dashing villain Basil Rathbone (he and Flynn were both highly accomplished swordsmen). But I'm not afraid to have a laugh at their expense. Fraser takes every cliché in the book - or should that be 'script'? - to create The Pyrates : impossibly handsome, incorruptible hero, dim but beautiful heroine, sultry dark and dangerous female anti-heroine, various piratical villains (loosely based on known pirates) who are really about as villainous as Jack Sparrow, great swordfights, thick guards, exotic Caribbean locations castles on rocks, fates worse than death, fabulous jewels...and spins them into a glorious romp. Like the film "Pirates of the Caribbean" it is completely over the top. Don't take it seriously, just curl up and enjoy the fun. Above all, enjoy the author's tongue in cheek style - in fact, his tonge is so far in his cheek that it's sticking through it and curling up round his ear.
A TV film was made in 1986. It was, as I recall, dire.
Some reviewers have lamented that The Pyrates isn't like the Flashman books. True, but neither is Mr American, nor is The General Danced at Dawn. They are different, but great in their own individual way.
14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on 15 March 2002
Two of the previous three reviewers are decidedly po-faced. 'The Pyrates' is a definite one off - the funniest book I've ever read. I purchased it in a bookshop on the Isle of Wight many years ago and spent the rest of the holiday rocking with laughter and telling my wife "hey - listen to this bit!", on almost every page. Lovely irreverent mixing of historical and modern - the pirates listen to Free Radio Tortuga. A ball from start to finish. Pass the 'Old Jamaick'ee', if you can remember that. Ahaarr Jim Lad!! Avast behind!!
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on 12 November 1998
G M-F's funniest book. The buckle is thoroughly swashed in this one. Hate the hero, admire the anti-hero and the pirates, sympathise with Happy Dan, shudder at Don Lardo, and learn a lot about real pirates. (How did a famous pirate get to be an archbishop? Where does the term 'buccaneer' come from?) What I want is a sequel.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 20 May 2009
Long before Pirates of the Caribbean and Cap'n Jack Sparrow revitalised the genre (with a little help from Disney and their theme park), George Macdonald Fraser was way ahead of the game.
Take every pirate movie from the 30's and 40's, every adventure comic strip in their heyday, every child's imagination of swashbuckling on the high seas, and every hero, villain and buxom heroine from every book from Treasure Island to Hornblower. Mix them up, throw in Fraser's brilliant wit and humour, and the end result is a feast to gorge upon that will make you laugh out loud, and regret reaching the final pages.
It's all tongue in cheek. The hero is a cross between Errol Flynn and Clark Gable. The villains are all either the dastardly British Royal Navy, the suave yet inept Spanish, or the typecast educationally challenged, unwashed, rip-roaring pirates of Hollywood. There's even a Cockney wheeler and dealer which I suspect even Ricky Gervais would relish as a cameo role. As for the female players - well, to say they were soaked in sex would be an understatement. With heaving bosoms, tight corsets, and prudish manners that barely last a scene when confronted by the high testosterone, dash and daring bravado of our hero.
Yes it corny. Yes it's clichéd. Yes, it's outrageous. But every character on the page is a joy. You'd be hard pushed to dislike any of them, even though some behave quite despicably. You'll relish the rich dialogue (did they really talk like that - I'm convinced!), and for an all too brief time, you'll be immersed in a world that had romance, adventure, derring do, and downright naughtiness.
Sadly the author died in January 2008. For Fraser fans it was an inconsolable loss. But what a legacy he left behind!