Friday, March 24, 2017

Everyone’s Trying to Kill Flint on “Black Sails”

With only two episodes left, Black Sails has finally taken us to Skeleton Island. And as anyone who has read Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island knows, some serious stuff is about to go down.


But what struck me most by the end of last week’s episode is that, except for his newfound partner, Flint is alone, and almost all the characters left on the show are trying to kill him. Flint is a goner by Treasure Island, so chances are someone is going to succeed. Here is how I see the odds.


Jack Rackham 1 in 50


I’m still not entirely clear why Eleanor’s grandmother wanted Jack to kill Flint, but that’s beside the point now. Jack has sent out to kill him, but I don’t see it happening. First, I question whether Jack even has it in him. He likes Flint and, think what you will about Calico Jack, I can’t see him tuning on one of his own in the end. Second, in a battle of Flint versus Jack, it’s no freaking contest. Flint could kill Jack with his bare hands.


No One: 1 in 20


All the accounts of Flint’s death in Treasure Island are hearsay, and none of the folks telling the tale are reliable. But in the book, Flint supposedly dies in Savannah from drinking too much run. This would be a Godfather III-like ending, and pretty anti-climactic if you ask me. 


Woodes Rogers: 1 in 10 


The historic Rogers is responsible for the death of a lot of pirates (though Blackbeard was not one of them), so it’s possible he’ll take out Flint. Throughout the series, Flint’s war has been against England, and Rogers is the living embodiment of the Crown on Nassau. Rogers also helped end the Pirate Republic, so I suppose him killing Flint would be symbolic.


Israel Hands: 1 in 5


Israel Hands is a bad, bad man, and Silver has already sent him out with five other pirates to hunt Flint down (unless Silver is playing a different game that has yet to be revealed). I’d say a fight between Flint and Hands is an even match. We know, however, that Hands appears in Treasure Island, so if they do get in a battle to the death, it’s not hard to guess which one will survive.


Long John Silver: 1 in 3


The conflict between Flint and Silver has been brewing for a long time, and a battle between the two was strongly alluded to in last season’s finale. Also, Israel Hands has been trying to convince Silver to kill Flint all season long. “The crown does not divide, it cannot be shared, you know this,” Hands told Silver last episode. “You want it done, you just don’t know how to ask it.” But like Jack, I’m not sure Silver has it in him to kill Flint – unless it’s literally to save Madi’s life.


Billy Bones: Even


Here’s what we know: Flint tried to kill Billy in Season One. Since then, Billy has hated Flint’s guts, and has tried to kill him twice already in Season Four. Even more, in Treasure Island, it’s Billy who ends up with the map to the Urca gold. At the Admiral Benbow, a dunk and old Billy tells young Jim Hawkins that Flint “gave it to me in Savannah, when he lay-a-dying.” Replace “Savannah” with “Skeleton Island,” and “he gave it to me” with “I pried it out of his cold, dead hands,” and my guess is that is how Flint will meet his end in the season finale of Black Sails.

But those are just my musings. Who do you think will end up killing Flint in the end?

* Images courtesy of Starz and Entertainment.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Happy Saint Patrick's Day!

Saint Patrick’s Day is one of my all-time favorite holidays, so today I'm re-posting an article about Stephen R. Lawhead's Patrick: Son of Ireland.


I had little appreciation for the story of Saint Patrick until I began my research for Enoch's Device. That novel begins in Derry and tells the story of two Irish monks who try to prevent the apocalypse at the end of the Tenth Century  a time when many in Christendom feared the world would end one thousand years after the birth of Christ. Prior to my research, I knew only the most common stories about Ireland's patron saint: the tale of the trinity and the shamrock, and his chasing the snakes out of Ireland (which has no native species of snakes, by the way).

Back then, Saint Patrick's Day was merely a good excuse to drink Guinness at an Irish pub. Once I began my research, however, all that changed, especially after reading How the Irish Saved Civilization by Thomas Cahill. I cannot recommend this book more strongly to anyone who is of Irish descent or who’s even remotely interested in the amazing role the Irish played in the survival of Western civilization during the Dark Ages.


Cahill’s book contained the first account I had ever read about Saint Patrick. Here's the abridged version. By the beginning of the fifth century, with the Goths and Huns threatening Rome, the Roman garrison in Britannia became depleted as troops moved back to defend the continent. This exposed Britannia to attacks by foreign enemies, including the Celtic Irish who ravaged Britannia’s western coast. One of the largest raids occurred around the year 401 A.D., when literally thousands of Britons were captured as slaves by Irish raiders. One of those captured was a teenage boy who we know today as Saint Patrick.

Patrick was a Romanized Briton and the son of a noble family. He was not born “Patrick,” and his original name remains in question, yet at least one source has him named Succat. Patrick served his enslavement as a shepherd to an Irish chieftain named Miliucc, who ruled a kingdom in the hills of Antrim. According to legend, Patrick remained captive for six years before escaping after hearing a voice in a dream about a trader’s ship that would return him to Britannia. After finding the ship and returning home, Patrick eventually made his way to Gaul at a time when hordes of Germans were crossing the Rhine to engage the Roman army. There, Patrick studied religion, became a priest, and later a bishop – the title he held when he returned to Ireland as one of its first and most famous Christian missionaries. It is with this background that I read Stephen R. Lawhead’s Patrick: Son of Ireland.


I had anticipated that this novel would tell the story of how Patrick converted the Irish Celts to Christianity. I was wrong. The book actually tells the tale of Patrick's early life, before he returned to Ireland. Aside from a brief epilogue, the novel provides no account of Patrick’s later years which earned him his sainthood. Instead, the author focuses on Patrick’s captivity and enslavement. And this is where the novel truly shines. Patrick’s enslavement introduces him to a druid named Cormac and his sister, Sionan, the woman with whom Patrick falls in love. After surviving several failed attempts at fleeing his captivity, Patrick, with Cormac’s aid, escapes his brutal life by agreeing to serve in a house of druids, and eventually studies to become a bard. This is where the novel becomes both fascinating and controversial.

The bards and druids of Lawhead’s Ireland can use magic, which firmly places this novel on the fine line between historical fiction and historical fantasy. Many of the druids and bards who teach Patrick are also members of the Ceile De, essentially Christian druids who believe in the one true God. Patrick ultimately becomes one of the Ceile De; he never becomes a priest or a bishop, though this is not necessarily foreclosed because the novel ends before the reader learns what becomes of Patrick later in life.

Not surprisingly, this plot point is controversial for those who feel the novel downplays or even eliminates Patrick’s Roman Catholicism. After all, they argue, the Roman Catholic Church would never have canonized a druid. But I view Stephen R. Lawhead as taking artistic license for the sake of his story. And overall, his story works – especially the two-thirds or so of the novel that take place in Ireland.

Although it was not what I expected, I enjoyed this novel, very much at times. And while the author may have taken artistic license with his subject, it works well in the end, telling a story of faith once lost only to be discovered again.

Happy Saint Patrick's Day everyone!

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Another Saint Patrick’s Day Sale for Enoch’s Device!

“God didn't love that man enough to make him Irish, lad.” – Brother Donall mac Taidg in Enoch’s Device.
Irish monks drinking to Enoch's Device!
As in prior year’s the Kindle version of Enoch’s Device is going on sale through March 16th in honor of Saint Patrick’s Day! Also, following the cover image is a new product description I’m considering for the novel. If you have an opinion about it (good or bad), I’d appreciate it if you could leave a comment! 

Ireland, AD 998. Brother Ciarán is an apprentice to Dónall mac Taidg, a stern but brilliant monk renowned for his scholarship years ago in France. When a Frankish bishop arrives at the monastery to accuse Dónall of heresy, Ciarán is determined to prove his friend’s innocence. But as he delves into his mentor’s past, he learns that Dónall stole a forbidden tome—one containing a secret as old as the origin of evil itself.

Ciarán and Dónall flee to France, for the bishop knows the secret too and is willing to kill for it. At Paris, Ciarán discovers a hidden reference in the tome to the lost Book of Enoch, an ancient scripture about the Nephilim, the descendants of fallen angels. The tome also speaks of Enoch’s device, a cryptic weapon that can defeat the Nephilim, whose clandestine war against God and mankind could bring about the events foretold in the book of Revelation.

Pursued by the bishop’s men, Ciarán and Dónall rescue the Lady Alais, a beautiful widow accused of witchcraft because she holds a key to the mystery. Together, the trio must find Enoch’s device, which has left clues of its passage through history, from the time of Solomon to the reign of King Arthur and the paladins of Charlemagne. But time is running out, and if they don’t find the device soon, all that they love could perish with the End of Days.
Here are excerpts from the book’s reviews:
Author Cate Peace of Indie Books R Us called Enoch's Device “a refreshing twist on the religious thriller, and one that will have you turning pages from cover to cover as fast as you can.” You can read her full review here.
In other reviews, Stephen Reynolds of SPR called Enoch's Device “a wonderfully imagined, vividly described, alternately lyrical and violent romp of a novel that should give lovers of historical fantasy just the kind of fix they're looking for.”
And Marty Shaw of Blog Critics wrote: “If you enjoy tales of magic and adventure that are perfectly blended with reality and history, ‘Enoch’s Device’ by Joseph Finley will be an exciting read for you.”
I gave an interview to Ms. Peace, where I revealed a bit more about the upcoming sequel – you can read it here. Also, you can read more about Enochthe Fae, and the Paladins of Charlemagne in my interview that appeared in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer here

And, thanks to a new feature that Amazon is offering, you can read a free preview here.

If you read the novel and enjoyed it, now is a perfect time to tell a friend!

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Eleanor Guthrie Was a Tragic Figure on “Black Sails”

About a year ago, I wrote that Eleanor Guthrie was making “Cersei-like decisions” on Black Sails. Such is the nature of tragedies.


I’m speaking in the classic sense of the term: a drama in which the character is brought to ruin by his or her tragic flaw. In Eleanor’s case, the flaw was a short-sightedness that would make fans of Cersei Lannister proud. Like Cersei in Game of Thrones, Eleanor makes decisions to solve the most immediate problem without thinking through the consequences. Appreciating the fallout from her actions isn’t exactly her thing.

When I wrote last year’s post it was about her decision to execute her former lover, Charles Vane. Max warned her against it, but Eleanor didn’t listen, and instead she lit the fuse that would ignite the pirate rebellion of Nassau. After the pirates’ disastrous attempt to capture Nassau in episode one this season, it seemed, for a brief moment, that Eleanor may have recovered from this mistake. But that’s the nature of tragedies. Things seems like they’re going right, until they’re not. And once again, Eleanor’s short sightedness was the cause.


One could argue that from the moment she chose to kill Vane, every decision she made led her to her fate. Her decision to trade Nassau to the pirates for the remains of the Urca treasure, without informing her husband, Woodes Rogers, was the first short sighted decision. After all, it assumed that Rogers, a proud and determined man, would accept her plan without fail, or that Mrs. Hudson could convince him to follow it. In fact, when Mrs. Hudson tries to explain Eleanor’s plan, Rogers points on the flaw in her thinking:
“I fear the instincts that have awoken within [Eleanor],” he tells Mrs. Hudson, “are more insidious than that. She has begun to believe again that disorder in Nassau is inevitable. That civilization is powerless, either through lack of will or capacity to do anything about it. Civilization has a number of faces. To think them all powerless to alter Nassau’s future is a terrible mistake.” 
Eleanor’s decision to fire warning shots to drive Rogers away so her plan with Flint could succeed sealed her fate. She badly underestimated Rogers’ resolve, never considering what he might do if he disagreed with handing the island over to the pirates. Instead, he decides to convince the Spanish governor of Cuba – another face of civilization with the will and capacity to get the job done – to invade Nassau. This decision makes Rogers an equally tragic figure on the show, for anyone who has watched last episode knows what happened next.

Eleanor was a tragic figure, but she was also one of the characters who made Black Sails so great. With only four episodes to go, her character arc was bound to reach its end. 

And it did so in a way that would make William Shakespeare proud.

* Images courtesy of Starz

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Billy Suffers the Ultimate Betrayal on “Black Sails”

We knew it had to happen, the ultimate rift between Billy Bones and Long John Silver. And last Sunday it did.


Last week’s episode of Black Sails was packed with drama. Woodes Rogers discovered, much to his displeasure, that Eleanor sold Nassau to Flint in exchange for the cache of gems, all that remains of the Urca gold. Moreover, he so disagreed with her decision that he made a deal with the devil – England’s enemy, the Spanish governor of Cuba – to retake Nassau. Eleanor, meanwhile, realized that Mr. Scott had used her as a pawn for years to fund his secret island of freed slaves. And then there’s Jack, who delivered a death-knell to Flint’s careful plans. But nothing last episode was more important for this prequel to Treasure Island than the chasm forged between Billy and Silver.

It all begins when Billy wants to kill Flint for trading the cache to Eleanor in exchange for Nassau. But Silver trusts Flint, and so does Madi, who thinks Flint made the right, but difficult choice. Even more, she’s convinced Billy is the one who needs to be “removed” in order to regain the trust of the island’s slaves. 


Silver, who is loyal to both Billy and Flint, doesn’t know what to do, and his dilemma plays out masterfully in his dialogue with Israel hands:
“Sooner or later that cache is going to arrive,” Silver says, “and they’ll be no more delaying. I’m committed to Flint, I’m committed to Madi, yet the road they intend to travel is one I’m losing the ability to understand. I know what Billy has done, what should be unforgivable, and yet so very recently there’s no one in the world I’d call a closer friend. The more he talks, the more I remember why.”
Silver shakes his head. “Determining now to have him killed, which is what it would take to side with Flint, seems like something I don’t know if I have it in me to do.”
Then Hands slaps Silver in the face and delivers a colorful ultimatum. “I don’t  give a sh*t what you choose, but f*cking choose. And don’t  make me suffer the thinking! Worry,” Hands says, “ain’t a good look in a king, not in a kingdom like this where loyalty is in short supply.”
As the episode nears its end, it looks as though Silver has chosen Billy’s plan. They’re going to ambush and murder Flint as he leaves the fort. But it’s all a ruse. Instead, Silver has sent Madi to meet Eleanor and Flint, and another pirate to murder Billy. The pirate ultimately betrays Silver, but it’s too late. Israel Hands nearly kills Billy Bones, though Silver spares his life. But only to deliver him to the slaves at the Underhill Estate who blame Billy for the retributions against their kin. 

Billy and Silver are now mortal enemies, and like I said before, it had to happen. Otherwise, Billy wouldn’t be hiding out in the Admiral Benbow, and he would never meet young Jim Hawkins. And young Mr. Hawkins would never embark on the journey on which the whole series is based – Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island.

* Images courtesy of Rotten Tomatoes.

Friday, February 24, 2017

“The Jekyll Revelation” Is a Clever Take on a Classic Tale

While I’ve been writing about Black Sails, a prequel to Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson, today I’m posting a review of Robert Masello’s The Jekyll Revelation, a story based on another of Stevenson’s famous tales. 


The Jekyll Revelation is a clever play on Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, with the notorious Jack the Ripper playing the role of Stevenson’s titular villain. And the fact that Stevenson is one of the book’s protagonists only adds to this cunning tale.

The story is a mystery of sorts that unfolds in parallel. One part in the present, and the other in the late nineteenth century. In the present, we’re introduced to Rafael Salazar, a field officer with the Bureau of Land Management in Topanga Canyon near Los Angeles. I actually grew up right near there, so this part of the book reminded me a ton of my hometown. The mystery, however, concerns an old steamer trunk half submerged in a lake. Among other things, the trunk happens to contain a secret journal written by Robert Louis Stevenson, and soon it’s revealed that the past storyline is actually the contents of the journal Rafael discovers.

 
There’s a whole lot more to the present storyline, including a romantic subplot and a canyon full of tension between Rafael and the local biker gang. But it is the parallel storyline involving Stevenson that really makes the book. The story begins in Switzerland where Stevenson is seeking an experimental cure for the tuberculosis he suffers from. The clinic is an old mansion tucked away in the Alps that reminded me a lot of the James Bond movie On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Stevenson, who is there with his wife and stepson, soon discovers that all is not right at the clinic, and that its famous owner, Dr. Rüedi, is engaging in strange and very dangerous experiments. 

From there, the story moves to London during the time of Jack the Ripper. In an author’s note at the end, Masello states that his inspiration for the book came from the fact that the first murder by Jack the Ripper occurred at a time when the stage play for Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was playing in London. In fact, according to Masello, suspicion for the killings even fell on Stevenson for a time. 

The mystery behind Jack the Ripper (who was never captured in real life) drives the second half the book and made it a story I won’t soon forget. And, in a deft bit of storytelling, the mystery of the Ripper even manifests itself in Rafael’s timeline. The most suspenseful and chilling parts, however, play out in Stevenson’s tale. He’s a compelling character, and after 493 pages, I feel like I’ve lived the adventure alongside the famous author. It’s even inspired me to go back and read the one classic of his I never got around to: The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

“Black Sails” Takes Artistic License with Blackbeard’s Fate

Well, the events of last week’s episode of Black Sails were unexpected. Yet maybe they shouldn’t have been.

Black Sails is not only wrapping up the prequel to Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, but also its historical retelling of story of the Pirate Republic of Nassau. Already, Black Sails has tackled the fate of real life pirates such as Charles Vane, Edward Low, and Benjamin Hornigold, so perhaps it’s not surprising that we witnessed Blackbeard’s fate before the series’ end. That said, a good bit of artistic license was taken in the telling.

As a writer of historical fiction, I’ve never been opposed to the taking of artistic license for the sake of good storytelling. In fact, I’ve written on the subject a number of times (see here and here, for example). In this instance, we saw Woodes Rogers take down Edward Teach, one of the most notorious pirates in history. Though, while the historical Rogers helped bring an end to the pirate republic, he was nowhere near Blackbeard when the famous pirate met his end. 

The historical Blackbeard found his demise at the hands of a British Lieutenant named Robert Maynard, who has never been depicted on the show. Yet the show’s writers did honor the story of how Blackbeard met his fate. After it appeared that Blackbeard had overcome Maynard’s [think Rogers’] sloop with cannon fire, Blackbeard and his men boarded the sloop to find much of its crew dead on the main deck. But Maynard had hidden more than a dozen men in the hull for an ambush. And the rest, shall we say, is history.

A must read for fans of the history behind Black Sails!
The keelhauling scene may have been gratuitous and lacking in historical evidence, though keelhauling was a very real and horrific practice in the golden age of piracy. According to Colin Woodard’s history on the matter, titled The Republic of Pirates (which I’m reading now),citing one historical account: “The final blow came from a Scots highlander who decapitated Blackbeard with a powerful swing of his sword, ‘laying it flat on his shoulder’ attached by a bit of flesh.” Alas, such a mighty Scotsman was absent on Black Sails, but Blackbeard’s fate worked out just fine in the name of good fiction.

* Photo courtesy of Starz.