Monday, August 9, 2010

The Frozen Pirate: A Free Book Review

The Frozen Pirate (audiobook here) by W. Clark Russell is an odd item. Written in 1887, it has a sci-fi element rather unusual for the time and even for the author, though Russell did write horror stories.

The story begins with a terrible storm and a kamikaze iceberg wiping out a ship and leaving the narrator adrift in a lifeboat in antarctic waters. He encounters a massive island of ice and goes ashore, where he eventually discovers a pirate ship run aground some distance from the water. The ship includes a generous helping of Frozen Pirate (tm)--heat 'em and serve!

Mostly by accident, our hero manages to revive one of the pirates--they've been in deep freeze for just under fifty years, so they're still good.

Sort of good.

Kind of amoral to evil, really. This is a realistic pirate, you see, and while he's willing to help the narrator get the ship back in the water, if possible, there's treasure aboard, and he finds the math of splitting it all in half a little too daunting and has an idea for avoiding the trouble.

So the narrator's early problems of loneliness and surviving the elements unassisted become the problems of obnoxious companionship and surviving its dangers. And then there's the task of getting the ship safely launched before the northward-bound island breaks up and takes the ship with it.

There are two negatives that I should mention. Writers were completists at this point, and the narrative continues well beyond the point where a modern writer would stop. I myself would simply relegate the closing chapters to a brief epilog. Also, while it is worth explaining how he gets the ship to England and disposed of the treasure, it's rather annoying that he goes from being fairly moral and ethical to wanting to dodge the standard procedures that would have left him with little of the treasure. He turns a bit pirate himself, and I'm not sure the irony is intentional.

Still, the idea is a good one, and if you're used to the period, you'll find the book worth reading. The twist in the pirate's fate is fairly ingenious, if not altogether original today.

A note about the audiobook: there are several readers, which is usually a bad thing. What's worse, there are a number of frequent mispronunciations that I at least found painful. In case you don't know it, the Thames, the river that passes through London, is pronounced "Tim's"; it rhymes with "gyms," not "James." So I don't really recommend the audiobook, though it's otherwise a good way of getting through a rather long story.

The Frozen Pirate

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