Retro Friday is a weekly meme hosted here at Angieville and focuses on reviewing books from the past. This can be an old favorite, an under-the-radar book you think deserves more attention, something woefully out of print, etc.I decided to pull this one out not long ago, because I've been feeling like pirates lately. Sometimes you just feel like some good piracy, don't you? The boy has chosen to be a pirate for Halloween this year, and so the various accouterments and necessities have been swirling around the house, and so the whole thing has been on my mind. I ran across Misty Massey's debut novel somewhere over three years ago on the shelves of my local bookshop and the cover pulled me in right away. It's wonderful, isn't it? So many possibilities in it . You don't know whether it's historical fiction or steampunk or fantasy or a combination of all two or more of those. I love it when a cover allows you to avoid genre stereotyping like that for a little while at least. And then there was a lovely blurb from Sharon Shinn to give me that little extra push. So I grabbed it off the shelf and took it home with me. And I was very glad I did. I almost never hear people talking about Mad Kestrel, and yet I really think it deserves a wider audience. I mean, as Tom Stoppard said, "Pirates could happen to anyone."
Kestrel is a pirate. After years fighting to prove her worth, she's now the quartermaster on the pirate ship Wolfshead. She has become invaluable to her captain and mentor Binns, and the crew respect her and follow her lead. The story opens in the midst of a sea battle between Kestrel's crew and a mysterious vessel that seems to disappear and reappear out of the mist like some sort of phantom ship. Later, while on shore, Kestrel and Binns run into the captain of the mysterious ship, one Philip McAvery who is both dashing and maddening and who seems to have his sights set on Kestrel and her captain. Unfortunately, all hell breaks loose at this point. Binns is captured and imprisoned under false pretenses. McAvery makes off with the Wolfshead, and Kestrel is on the run from a pair of assassins and a bounty hunter.
No one is what they appear to be in this book. Even Kestrel. Gifted with the power to whistle up the wind, she has spent her life determined to hide her ability and thereby avoid the Danisoban Brethren--an order of mages who routinely round up all magically inclined children in order to use them for their own purposes. Interestingly enough, water is supposed to dampen magical ability. But our Kestrel is an exception. And she would prefer her unusual status remain safely anonymous. But Binns' capture and the continual interference of the inimitable McAvery gang up on her, making it difficult for Kestrel to maintain her grasp on the life she so carefully crafted for herself. What I like about Kestrel is how comfortable she is in her skin. Her qualms about her magical ability aside, she straddles the gap between women and pirates with panache. She is endearingly unselfconscious in her admittedly unusual role. And though she despises skirts and does not actively seek men out, she doesn't avoid them either. Misty Massey doesn't spend much time laying out back story on her characters. The reader is plunged into the middle of the action and comes to know the characters slowly as the story progresses. It wasn't until the end that I felt like I was getting a handle on who Kestrel, McAvery, and Binns really were. But it was a fun ride, packed with characters full of secrets and escapades on the high seas. I look forward to checking out Kestrel's (and McAvery's....grin) further adventures. It's been my understanding that Ms. Massey has been working on the second volume for awhile now, but I have heard very little about it. This distresses me. I'm crossing my fingers that it finds its way into print (and my hands) very soon.
Retro Friday Roundup
Chachic's Book Nook reviews Blackbringer by Laini Taylor
A Girl, Books and Other Things reviews Treasured Vows by Cath Maxwell
Good Books and Good Wine reviews Poison Study by Maria Snyder
One Libarian's Book Reviews reviews The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe
The Discriminating Fangirl review
Fantasy Book Critic review