Pirate fiction for a scurvy dog
November 12, 2008 8:32 AM   Subscribe

I want to read novels about pirates. I don't care about genre, I don't care about quality (much), I just want lots and lots of Age of Sail pirates.

And I mean it about genre. Pirate horror, pirate sci-fi, pirate fiction, hell, even a good trashy pirate romance -- I'm there.

If it involves real-life historical pirates, it's even more awesome (with extra bonus points for Anne Bonny and Mary Read).

(I know about the swashbuckling question from 2006, but I want something definitely more pirate-y and less generic swashbuckle-y.)
posted by Katemonkey to Writing & Language (40 answers total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
The Sweet Trade, by Elizabeth Garrett.
posted by jackypaper at 8:38 AM on November 12, 2008

Only one of its three major threads is about piracy (and the slave trade) but the MeFi-favorite Baroque Cycle of books by Neal Stephenson has some of the best piracy/history/sailing booty I've read in ages. Or Ages.
posted by rokusan at 8:44 AM on November 12, 2008

The Nutmeg of Consolation comes to mind, a Patrick O'Brian book.
posted by plexi at 8:47 AM on November 12, 2008

If it's trashy pirate romances you want, you're in luck -- that seems to be a hugely popular genre (and I'm sure Orlando Bloom and Johnny Depp's turns as pirates didn't hurt.)

There's a couple fun lists at Amazon.com of pirate romances that may be a good place to start: One Two Three

For non-romances, I enjoyed this book based on Anne Bonney: Pirate Spirit: The Adventures of Anne Bonney.
posted by saturngirl at 8:51 AM on November 12, 2008

Not fiction, but William Dampier's memoirs are a first-hand account of life as a buccaneer.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 8:55 AM on November 12, 2008

On Stranger Tides by Tim Powers is a superb Pirate/Voodoo/Fantasy/Zombie novel.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 8:57 AM on November 12, 2008

..even a...trashy pirate romance...

You asked for it. Word of caution: the word "shaft" appears often in this book, in a variety of contexts. Note that I removed the "good" when I excerpted your question, above.

A list of other, perhaps less trashy titles can be found here.
posted by arco at 8:59 AM on November 12, 2008

The Vandermeers recently released a pirate anthology - Fast Ships, Black Sails.
posted by zamboni at 9:00 AM on November 12, 2008

Pirate Freedom, by Gene Wolfe. Aside from exactly two fantastic/fantasy events that happen very nearly between sentences, a remarkable straightforward novel about pirates from an author known for his remarkable subtlety.

Or I'm missing something.
posted by VeritableSaintOfBrevity at 9:02 AM on November 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

If you really don't care about genre, the children's book Everything I Know About Pirates is pretty cute.
posted by Metroid Baby at 9:17 AM on November 12, 2008

If you want to read some non-fiction for background I found "Under The Black Flag" enjoyable.
posted by Floydd at 9:25 AM on November 12, 2008

If you like your pirates in space, check out the Virga series by Karl Schroeder

and on preview, if you'd like more kids books that are entertaining pirate tales, How I Became a Pirate and Pirates Don't Change Diapers are really fun to read to your kids out loud.
posted by jrishel at 9:41 AM on November 12, 2008

It might not be exactly what you expect, but The Scar by China Mieville is a great pirate novel in the New Weird genre.
posted by Oktober at 9:46 AM on November 12, 2008

Grania, She-King of the Irish Seas. Bonus: based on a true story.
posted by zoomorphic at 9:56 AM on November 12, 2008

Rafael Sabatini
posted by bricoleur at 10:02 AM on November 12, 2008

I'll second Under the Black Flag. It's really interesting.
posted by vilcxjo_BLANKA at 10:02 AM on November 12, 2008

When I was a teenager I used to spend my summer vacations (before I was old enough to work) reading romance novels. One of my favorites just so happens to be a fun pirate/mistaken identity/French Revolution story: Desire in Disguise, by Rebecca Brandewyne.

Looks like you can pick it up on Amazon for pennies.
posted by padraigin at 10:07 AM on November 12, 2008

A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the most notorious Pyrates. Daniel Defoe, 1724. Some of it is fictionalized.
posted by ikkyu2 at 10:17 AM on November 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

N. Stephenson's "Baroque Cycle" trio isn't *about* pirates, but it contains a really fun story in which piracy plays a part, starting within the eastern Mediterranean and spending a good about of time around India and Manilla. The story is set in the late 1600s and early 1700s, and the other parts of the story are about the rivalry between Newton and Leibniz, alchemy and the birth of Science, the nature of money and trade, slavery, religion and metaphysics, and yes, piracy. So, not a large part, but worth a read overall, says me.
posted by cmiller at 10:19 AM on November 12, 2008

Hunt down Robert E. Howard's pirate books, like Black Vulmea's Vengeance.

David C. Smith liked the character so much, he wrote Black Vulmea in the Witch of the Indies - here's the blurb on the back of that book:
She was a recklessly attractive woman, this Katherine O'Donnell. Fully rigged in the outlaw fashion of her crew, her wild red hair falling away loosely down her shoulders, and with eyes like chips of green flame, she looked worthy of the name that followed her about: THE WITCH OF THE INDIES.
He was a giant of a man, with beard and hair that flowed like black flame, a brace of pistols about his waist and dagger in his hand. There was no match for him on any of the seas; he knew no superstition. But he knew fear when he was challenged by the red-haired wench, he whom they called BLACK VULMEA.

i.e., it is pure pulp.

Other types of pirates are in "The Liveship Traders" trilogy by Robin Hobb. It's the second part of a 9 book series that definitely adds to understanding and appreciation to the events described, so it might be more than you're interested in right now. Still, the pirate stuff in these is fairly rich. Ship of Magic is the first book in the trilogy. The first trilogy is "The Farseer Trilogy".

Those are my outlier suggestions.
posted by batmonkey at 10:54 AM on November 12, 2008

dangit. lost my formatting. imagine appropriate sprinkling of italics, above.
posted by batmonkey at 10:56 AM on November 12, 2008

A High Wind in Jamaica, by Richard Hughes, is a classic of pirate fiction.
posted by The corpse in the library at 11:02 AM on November 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

I greatly enjoyed The Pirates: In and Adventure with Communists.
posted by munchingzombie at 11:06 AM on November 12, 2008

The Defoe book reminded me of The Pyrates, by George Macdonald Fraser.
posted by zamboni at 11:25 AM on November 12, 2008

I'll second On Stranger Tides and A High Wind in Jamaica, and add Or Else My Lady Keeps the Key, by Kage Baker, which was lots of fun.
posted by OolooKitty at 11:48 AM on November 12, 2008

Speaking as a pirate myself, I recently read J. V. Hart's Capt. Hook: The Adventures of a Notorious Youth and enjoyed it immensely.
posted by Faint of Butt at 12:17 PM on November 12, 2008

Rafael Sabatini and R.L. Stevenson.

Sabatini has Captain Blood and The Black Swan, also fun movies, and Stevenson has Treasure Island. That's pretty much the foundation of pirate fiction, right there.
posted by ewkpates at 12:54 PM on November 12, 2008

I think most must have assumed Treasure Island was a given. Or maybe that was just me.

Also, I know you want to read about them, but there's no way to read Cutthroat Island. It's cheeeeeeeesy to the extreme, but it occasionally has a rollicking quality that can get you through some of the worst bluescreen editing since the '70s. HUGE flop. GIANT. Almost killed the pirate genre, in fact. But I think it's still worth watching, especially if you're a completist.
posted by batmonkey at 1:10 PM on November 12, 2008

from the author of "The Pirates! in an Adventure With Communists" i heartilly reccomend

The Pirates! in an Adventure With Scientists
posted by swbarrett at 1:11 PM on November 12, 2008

Red Seas under Red Skies is the second of Scott Lynch's superfantastic fantasy series and has pirates. Plus it is actually good. Of course you'd better read the first book (The Lies of Locke Lamora) too, which is not about pirates but even better than the second.
posted by Skyanth at 1:32 PM on November 12, 2008

Also you did not mention knowing about this thread, which has more pirate book recommendations.
posted by Skyanth at 1:35 PM on November 12, 2008

The Count of Monte Cristo isn't about pirates, per se, but the title character spends some time as a pirate. Plus, it's an awesome book.
posted by emd3737 at 2:47 PM on November 12, 2008

Cup Of Gold by John Steinbeck. It's Steinbeck's first novel and centers on the real pirate, Capt. Henry Morgan.
posted by ws at 3:32 PM on November 12, 2008

A Pirate of Her Own and Master of Seduction by Kinley MacGregor a pseudonym used by Sherrilyn Kenyon. These fall into the good trashy pirate romance category.
posted by bjgeiger at 4:35 PM on November 12, 2008

My favourite pirate novel has been The Requiem Shark by Nicholas Griffin.

It features Capt. Bartholemew Roberts and is told through the eyes of a young musician forced to join the pirate crew.
posted by jonesor at 4:03 AM on November 13, 2008

Pirates! is a young adult novel about a young woman who becomes a pirate that fits your era requirements.
posted by rosebengal at 10:05 AM on November 13, 2008

Treasure Island is an adventure novel by Robert Louis Stevenson, narrating a tale of "pirates and buried gold". Of course you've probably read it.
posted by yoHighness at 3:40 PM on November 13, 2008

Response by poster: Wow, these are all so awesome!

Thanks, everyone! I have a huge reading list now!

(And, yes, I did want crappy pirate romances. Especially pirates in New Orleans. Although never anything as painful as Danielle.)
posted by Katemonkey at 5:47 AM on November 14, 2008

Yeah, Stevenson's Treasure Island is a must. It's the origin point of so much standard lore in pirate fiction; it's where "Fifteen men on a dead man's chest/Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum" and treasure maps marked with an X both come from, and the morally complex Long John Silver is possibly the single most influential character in the genre. Plus, it's such a great read.

Another obvious one that should be here is Barrie's Peter Pan (the original play or later novelization) for Captain Hook.

The nonfiction book mentioned a couple of times, David Cordingly's Under the Black Flag, is a quick read and was a decent enough general survey, but I found his style a bit dry for the subject and his brief descriptions of specific pirates' adventures more shallow than I wanted. But it's very good about the books, plays and films that have created popular images of pirates over the last 300 years (at the end of chapter 1, it discusses a lot of now-mostly-forgotten theatrical productions that kept the romance alive during the 1700s and 1800s), and mentions the following in addition to those above:

- Sir Walter Scott's The Pirate
- R. M. Ballantyne's Coral Island
- The Pirate by Capt. Frederick Marryat, who was admired by later sea writers like Joseph Conrad, C. S. Forester and Patrick O'Brian
- Lord Byron's epic poem The Corsair, which Cordingly says gave "a major boost" in 1814 to the image of the pirate as a romantic outlaw
- Daphne du Maurier's Frenchman's Creek, whose hero "is one of the most romantic of all the fictional pirates"
posted by mediareport at 8:56 PM on November 15, 2008

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