Thursday, March 31, 2016

It’s All About Silver in the “Black Sails” Season Finale!

After this season’s first episode, I wrote that “On Black Sails, the Seeds of Treasure Island are Beginning to Grow.” Having watched the season finale twice, I think my initial observation was quite accurate. Above all things, this season was about the transformation of Long John Silver into the notorious pirate of Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic tale.

Is Silver now the star of the show?
If Season One was about introducing us to the various pirates of Nassau and the still-important Urca gold, and Season Two was devoted to Flint’s backstory and motivations, Season Three belonged to Silver. As proof, all you need to look at is the brilliant dialogue between Flint and Silver that ran through the entire season finale.

It began, after burying the cache of gems, with Silver wanting to know what really happened to Flint to set him down this path:
“I told Billy that your darkest thoughts somehow had the ability to manifest themselves upon our reality. Your anger over the murder of Ms. Barlow became the storm into which we all battled. Your despair over her death became the doldrums into which we all sank. In my defense, I had not had anything to eat or drink in a while. But the truth of it, I’m not sure it was far off. Your demons are a part of our reality. Such is the nature of the influence you wield. Some of those demons I’ve come to know, but the one in whose name this war is to be fought is still a stranger to me. Before this war actually begins, I’m asking where it actually began.”
Flint tells him, ending with a line evincing Flint’s noble – and even heroic – intentions. Explaining what he felt after his relationship with Lord Thomas Hamilton was exposed and scandalized, Flint says: “That was the day on some level I knew that England was broken and that sooner or later a good man must resist it.”

Is Flint the noble hero?
That’s what’s driving Flint – to stand up against England and avenge the deaths of Thomas and Miranda. But Silver doesn’t really care. All he cares about is that everyone close to Flint ends up dead:
“Before today I knew of two people who managed to truly know you. To gain your trust, to be your partner. And they both ended up dead while playing the role. . . . Now you’re telling me there’s a third member of this class, making it even less credible to characterize Mr. Gates and Mrs. Barlow’s deaths as bad luck. It would seem that those closest to you meet their end, not just during the relationship but because of it. And as I sit here I’m acutely aware there maybe no one closer to you in the world right now than I.”
Flint is surprised. “What exactly are you saying?” he asks. “That I have somehow sought out my own tragedies?” Then he says, “So you see yourself as a potential fourth member of this class? Concerned that your association with me will lead to your end?” That’s when Silver lays down the gauntlet:
“My association with you began out of necessity, but I’ve come to find a great deal of respect for you. Perhaps even friendship. . . . Which is why I find myself unnerved by the thought that when this pattern applies itself to you and I, that I will be the end of you.”
Flint raises a brow. He’s skeptical, but Silver’s not done. He’s become a superior leader to Flint, and wants Flint to know it. Silver reveals that he entrusted Mr. Dobbs (whom Silver had disciplined a few episodes back) to play a key role in the pirates’ battle plan by leading the British into a trap. Flint immediately questions Silver’s decision: “Why would you do that to a man harboring such resentment?” You have to love Silver’s response:
“Because it isn’t resentment. If you had disciplined him, he’d resent you for it. But towards me, I don’t believe he feels resentment. I believe he feels shame for having disappointment me. And a great need to redeem himself in my eyes. . . .
“I once thought that to lead men in this world, to be liked was just as good as feared. And that may very well be true. But to be both liked and feared all at once is an entirely different state of being. In which I believe at this moment, I exist alone. The men need to know they’re in good favor with me. They need it. And there is nothing they won’t do to make sure they have it. Mr. Dobbs will do what I ask of him.”
Now that’s the Long John Silver of Stevenson’s Treasure Island! Even better, though, is Flint’s response, which promises an epic fourth season of Black Sails:
“Let us say there is some merit to your argument. Let us say that Mr. Dobbs will do what you ask of him. I will have to admit in that case the world has shifted beneath our feet in a most startling way. But in terms of our future and the danger that you believe you may pose to me, bear this in mind. I survived starvation, tempest, pirate hunters, just captains, mutinous crews, angry lords, a queen, a king, and the goddamned British navy. So to whatever extent you may be concerned that someday we will clash, worried that though today we be friends, someday you’ll have no choice but to be my enemy, I won’t worry too much.”
In other words, challenge accepted! This dialogue made the episode, but there was a lot more to like about the finale, including Jack telling Blackbeard to “Raise the Black”; some of the best Ann Bonny scenes ever; and, last but not least, RIP Capt. Hornigold!

As for Eleanor Guthrie, whose decisions this season have been a frequent subject of this blog, it looks like we’ll need to wait for Season Four to see what happens to her. Although given the introduction of the infamous “black spot” and Billy Bones’ actions on the island, I think we know what to expect.

Did Billy Help Create a Legend?
Yet in the end, it still came back to Silver. As Billy is creating a fictional villain to scare the pirates of Nassau into revolt, he ultimately decides to use the name of Long John Silver instead. Then he offers this preview of what’s to come:
“When he’s ready, he’ll step into the role we’ve created for him and lead an impossible army into an unwinnable war. And win it.”
It’s too bad we have to wait nine months before Black Sails returns. But fortunately, we’ll have Outlander and Game of Thrones to help get us through!

* Images courtesy of Starz

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Eleanor is making Cersei-like Decisions on “Black Sails”

I’ll be the first to admit that I didn’t see last week’s ending on Black Sails coming. Not at all.

The queen of Nassau?
I had no idea what to expect when Eleanor encountered Charles Vane in Nassau’s dungeon, and I wasn’t too surprised by her initial reaction. But by the end of the episode two things were clear. First, Eleanor is all-in with Woodes Rogers. And second, she’s now making the type of decisions that made Queen Cersei famous on Game of Thrones

The queen of bad decisions.
There have always been a few similarities between Eleanor Guthrie and Cersei Lannister. After all, both are strong and beautiful women with lots of cunning and ambition. Until now, however, Cersei has been much more ruthless and vindictive, but she’s also been a master of bad decision-making. These include giving the High Sparrow an army, alienating Highgarden by imprisoning Margaery, ensuring war with Dorne, and ignoring the threat beyond the Wall, just to name a few. And thanks to last week’s episode, both she and Eleanor have something else in common: very bad decisions.

Max was the first to recognize it. By summarily trying and executing Charles Vane, Eleanor has broken Rogers’ bargain with the men of Nassau. Vane saw it too, and it allowed him to complete his character arc from Season 1 villain to Season 3’s noble hero. Now, as Billy Bones recognized, the “the resistance in Nassau is now underway.” Count this as the first consequence of Eleanor’s bad decision.

Unintended consequences!
Consequence #2 is that Edward Teach has been motivated to become Blackbeard again in all of his ruthless, most-notorious-pirate-ever, glory! I guarantee it was a consequence she failed to consider. The third consequence, of course, will be Flint’s wrath. Last episode, I even think Mr. Scott realized that Eleanor is beyond hope. While at his deathbed, Madi refers to Eleanor as Mr. Scott’s other daughter, and says “she’s one of them now” (meaning the English). Madi warns her father that now he has daughters on both sides of this war. But to this, he responds, “Only you.” 

One thing that Game of Thrones has taught us is that Cersei always rebounds. After everything she’s set in motion, I suspect Eleanor Guthrie will only wish she could be so lucky.

* Photos courtesy of Starz and HBO.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

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!

P.S. - My St. Patrick's Day Sale for Enoch's Device is going on all day. You can buy a copy here.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Where Things Stand on Season 3 of “Black Sails”

With just two episodes left in the third season of Black Sails, I thought I’d revisit the predictions I made after the season’s premiere. 

The legend has been born!
I was right about a few things. The seeds of Treasure Island are indeed beginning to grow and Silver has begun his transformation into the Long John Silver of literary legend. The best example of that was his murder of Mr. Dufrense and his admonition to the traitors of Nassau:
“Tomorrow you will join us, or you will all be looking over your shoulders the rest of your lives. My name is John Silver and I’ve got a long f*king memory!”
If you’ve read Treasure Island, you also may suspect, as do I, that Silver and Madi are about to become more than just allies. Robert Louis Stephen wrote that Silver was married to a woman of African descent, and if the show is about to make this a reality, I love the way the writers have approached it. In fact, the plotline involving Mr. Scott and his family has been one of the best surprises in Season 3.

The struggles seem to have changed Flint.
Flint, on the other hand, has not descended to the dark place that I expected. He was well on his way, but then the crew’s dire fate after the storm and their subsequent captivity seemed to break him. Now we’re back to the noble Flint trying to save the pirates of Nassau. Don’t get me wrong, he still wants the British to burn, but he’s taken responsibility for his men and those of Scott’s wife as he wages his war.

How will Eleanor react when she sees Charles Vane?
It was with Eleanor Guthrie, however, where I whiffed the most. I had speculated that she might try to betray Woodes Rogers at some point, joining forces with Max and Rackham when back in Nassau. In truth, it appears, Eleanor concluded that Rogers was her best choice. Perhaps she seduced him, but I tend to think she actually fell in love. But all of that may be about to change now that her ex-lover Charles Vane is sitting in Nassau’s dungeon. Eleanor may have wished revenge upon Vane for murdering her father, but she’s never gotten over her first love. As she told a badly beaten Rogers at the end of last episode:
“I know you know. I’m devoted to you now. I love you now, so I will tell you the absolute truth about how I’m going to react when faced with that thing sitting in that cell in your fort. . . . I honestly don’t know.”
I can’t wait to see which path Eleanor will choose – though I feel like it may be Vane. But if there’s one thing Season 3 has taught me, it’s that few things go as they are planned!

* Images courtesy of Starz

Saturday, March 12, 2016

The "Game of Thrones" Season 6 Trailer Looks Amazing!

If the trailer is any indication, Season 6 of Game of Thrones promises to be a blast. And, because the show has now out-paced the books, it will be the first time readers of the books will actually be surprised as the show unfolds. (Note, HBO warns that the trailer has "mature content," so it might be NSFW.)

I believe there's a reason she's at Castle Black!
The trailer hints to a ton of events, including the Ironborn Kingsmoot, what looks like a flashback to Robert's Rebellion (with Ned Stark!), Bran roaming beyond the wall as the new three-eyed raven . . . and what I suspect will be the resurrection of Jon Snow!

James Whitbrook at io9 posted an article called "All the Secrets Hidden in Game of Thrones' Brand New Trailer." He does a fabulous job of piecing things together, and I think his observations are spot on. You can read his post here.

Friday, March 11, 2016

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 for seven days starting today, all in honor of Saint Patrick’s Day! Here’s a short summary of the novel: 

Nearly a thousand years after the birth of Christ, when all Europe fears that the world will soon end, a young Irish monk, Brother Ciarán, discovers an ominous warning hidden in the illuminations of a religious tome. The cryptic prophecy speaks of Enoch’s device, an angelic weapon with the power to prevent the coming apocalypse. But a heretic-hunting bishop has arrived at the monastery, willing to kill to make sure the weapon is never found.
Pursued by the bishop’s men and supernatural forces, Ciarán and his freethinking mentor journey to the heart of France in search of the device. There, they rescue the Lady Alais, a young widow accused of witchcraft because she holds a key to the prophecy. Together, the trio must race across Europe to locate the device, which has left clues of its passage through history. But time is running out, and if they don’t find it soon, all that they love could perish at the End of Days. 
Enoch’s Device is a fast-paced medieval adventure steeped in history, mythology, and mysteries from a dark and magical past.
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!

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

“God of Vengeance” – Another Great Viking Tale

I'm pleased to once again feature a guest review by Bill Brockman. Bill is an avid reader of historical fiction, but he’s also devoted his life to public service as a Battalion Chief of the Atlanta Fire Rescue Department and a 31-year part-time airman in the Air National Guard. Here's his take on this new Viking tale: 

Previously, I have reviewed a Viking trilogy by Giles Kristian on Fresh-scraped Vellum. That series is set during the period of the Viking raids into Britain and France, which began in 793 AD. A new novel by Kristian, God of Vengeance is set slightly earlier, with a prologue in 775 and most of the action ten years later in 785. I absolutely loved this novel, and Kristian is becoming one of those authors I seek out.

Kristian’s strength as an author of historical novels is that he seems to understand that Vikings of the Eighth Century had very different world views and motivations from we “moderns.” I don’t say he’s unique in this, but that he incorporates it very well. The characters in God of Vengeance are motivated by several desires: the desire for lasting fame, as would live on in the tales of traveling Skalds; the needs of a culture of “honor” and “reputation”, whereby wrongs against one’s family must be avenged at any cost; and the overwhelming belief in the gods who would accept fallen warriors into “Valholl” only under certain conditions – which mainly meant dying in honorable combat weapon in hand. The vengeance required by this culture led to the Norse tradition of “Holmgang” – a form of duel or feud that could go on for generations at great cost in blood and treasure. All of these motivations feature prominently in this book.

The Corpse Hall of Valholl
We first meet 7-year-old Sigurd, the youngest of Jarl Harald’s sons, on a boar hunt with his father and the King – Gorm “Shieldshaker” – to whom Harald has sworn fealty on the island of Karmoy in southwest Norway in 775. King Gorm graciously offers Sigurd the first spear throw at a giant bull elk and compliments the boy when his throw hits the elk but fails to lodge, allowing the prey to escape. Jarl Harald is proud of his son and Sigurd’s spear no longer feels too big for his hand as the hunting party returns to the King’s great hall in Avaldsnes.

The action then jumps ten years, as Jarl Harald and his war band in Skudeneshavn prepare to answer the King’s summons to join him in a ship battle against the usurper Jarl Jandver. Harald’s three dragon ships full of seasoned warriors will add serious strength to Gorm’s fleet in Karmsund Strait between Karmoy and a smaller island at the seaward side of the large Boknafjorden. (A very helpful map is provided, although some locations are left off). Of Jarl Harald’s sons, only 17-year-old Sigurd will be left behind with his mother Grimjild and sister Runa and the other young boys and old men. Sigurd’s friends Svein and Aslak will remain behind to join him and Runa in watching the battle from the heights of Karmoy overlooking the strait.

Without giving away the whole plot, let’s just say that King Gorm and Jarl Jandver have come to an arrangement, the results of which is to leave Sigurd and a very few of his father’s folk fugitives, their homes burned, and their warriors and jarl dead. Runa has been enslaved by Jandver and Sigurd burns with the fires of vengeance, which will lead him around the fjords and lands of Norway, gathering a motley crew of young, old, former slaves and even a fierce shield maiden. Among the most valuable are Olaf, his father’s oldest friend who feels great shame in letting his Jarl die, and Solmund, a great sailor. So, even though the once proud fleet of dragon ships now sails for the traitors, Sigurd will have a small boat named Otter, a skilled helmsman, and the beginnings of a crew of proud warriors. The Skald Hagal is not formally a part of the crew but will be a valuable ally.

I really enjoyed this novel. As noted above, I think we moderns fail to fully appreciate that their beliefs in the gods of the Norse were not casual to them. These men had likely never heard of Christianity and may not have known that other religions even existed, although some missionaries had reached Denmark by this time. Sigurd and his fellows live in a world fully integrated – in their minds and hearts – with the world of Odin and the gods. They “know” beyond doubt that dying in battle, weapon in hand, is the key to joining the eternal feast in Odin’s corpse hall Valholl with those who have gone before. The sea is not merely a natural thing, but the domain of Ran and her hungry daughters. The rocks, trees, and streams are homes of gods. Ravens are not just birds but Odin’s spies and omens. Sigurd must test himself against Odin himself to gain the favor of the gods. This is all integrated with the plot, not pasted on. We, the reader, never know to what extent forces beyond the natural affect events. But, Sigurd and crew have no such doubts. Sigurd comes to be identified as “favored of Odin” after undergoing an ordeal and also with Odin’s son Vidarr – the God of Vengeance of the title. Sigurd is aided in his quest by his father’s Godi, Asgot, whom men fear for his powers. 

Sigurd and his slowly growing crew travel around the periphery of Boknafjorden and even make a dangerous open sea voyage up the west coast to Osoyro in the attempt to recruit enough warriors to fulfill his vow or revenge against Jarl Jandver and King Gorm. Most urgently, his sister Runa has been promised as bride to Jandver’s son in a ceremony to be held at the Jule Blot festival at the winter solstice. Sigurd must be at Jandver’s hall with enough warriors to prevent this.

I will not give away any more of the plot. I think anyone who has enjoyed other novels and dramas featuring Vikings will enjoy this well researched and well written novel, the first in a series of indefinite length.

Thanks to Bill for the great review. And thanks to a wonderful new feature offered by Amazon, you can read a preview of the book here.