Never judge a book by its cover. That’s certainly true for Mark Keating’s “The Pirate Devlin,” which is dressed in a dust jacket sporting cartoonish pirates.
The hardcover at first glance could be dismissed by adult readers as young adult fiction, which it’s not, though teens easily could enjoy it. Perhaps the publisher recognized that because the paperback cover sports a different design.
Regardless, “The Pirate Devlin” is a well-researched tale revolving around the title character who was sold by his father for four guineas. Later, as a servant for a British captain, Devlin learns valuable navigation skills. Those skills will save his life after pirates sink the captain’s ship and conscript Devlin into the pirate crew.
At first it seems a trade of servitude for slavery, but after observing his shipmates, he sees a kind of freedom he never experienced. The pirate captain makes Devlin the navigator, and after gaining the trust of the crew, he begins to appreciate his new dangerous but free life.
Watching the main course drop and crack against the wind, he thought of the men he had fallen in with. They were brave and resourceful, drunken and dissolute, but he had met men like that before. It had taken months of being with them and this evening to seal his opinion of why they were different, why the ship was different.
All along it was there: in their food, their drink, their work, their loyalty to one another. They were equal. They were free.
For weeks Devlin had wanted to return to the servitude and drudgery that had been his whole life, living from hand to mouth and day to day, like everybody else. Hanging out of the pocket of another man. For what purpose?
Now men who would have ordered or pitied him would lie dead at his feet. His pockets would hang heavy with what they owned or had taken from the sweat of others.
With his skills — and knowledge of treasure — so respected by his mates, Devlin later replaces the ship’s fallen captain. Devlin leads his crew on a perilous quest for riches. On their trail all the while is British Captain Coxon, the man Devlin once served, who now wants to see the pirate hang.
Adventure fills the sails of “The Pirate Devlin,” but it’s not entirely smooth sailing. The many characters, especially the pirates, become confusing and the nautical terms at times can cause the reader to slow and stumble.
Despite those flaws the novel still entertains and hopefully will inspire readers to do their own research on 18th century piracy, a subject about which, clearly, the author is passionate. With “The Pirate Devlin,” Keating shares the treasure of his knowledge and imagination.