Aside from Attack of the Clones, one would be hard pressed to come up with a more pulp-inspired title than The Empire of Blue Water, but seeing as it’s about the true-life story of Captain Henry Morgan, it is (happily) extremely fitting. If you were to try to come up with a pulpier title, you might think about subtitling it “Captain Morgan’s Great Pirate Army, The Epic Battle for the Americas, and the Catastrophe That Ended The Outlaw’s Bloody Reign.” Which, believe it or not, is exactly what Stephan Talty subtitled it.
Unlike The Silmarillion, which is fake but seems real, The Empire of Blue Water is real, yet seems fake. Who would believe in a mad welsh pirate captain who was brought up from nothing to command what was called The Great Pirate Army? Even more preposterous was the fact that not only was it called “The Great Pirate Army,” but was done so with a straight face. Who would believe that after decades of mobbing and drunken debauchery, the Jamaican city of Port Royal would be all but wiped out by a massive earthquake a few months after Captain Morgan died, thus bringing not only the death of the man, but a seemingly supernatural vengeance on all of piratedom? Who would believe that this man Captain Morgan actually looked like the picture on the rum bottle that’s named after him? Who would believe that the rum Morgan actually drank was called Kill Devil?
Who would believe that when he returned to England a prisoner for violating the English treaty with Spain that he was acquitted and instead of imprisoned, he was knighted? That when he returned to Jamaica he was made governor and began hunting the very pirates he had helped make famous? You see Henry Morgan was technically a privateer: a private soldier of the seas given permission by the English to loot and pillage the Spanish. Much like Dean Koontz does to Stephen King in our present time. Also, much like Stephen King, actual pirates were awarded a bigger share of the booty if they lost a limb. Although in their case it was usually while trying to overthrow an enemy ship. This accounts for all the hooks and peg legs and is also coincidentally the origin of the phrase “it cost me an arm and a leg.”
The Empire of Blue Water is filled with action and fantastic naval strategy, especially Morgan’s attacks on Porto Bello and Meracaibo. Talty however does veer off on a few tangents, mostly due to the story of Roderick (an amalgamation of what a typical pirate would be), but his major weakness comes in telling us the origin of the word Buccaneer. Apparently it comes from the people who lived in the Caribbean who ate a special kind of barbeque called “Buccan;” thus “buccaneer.” This is not at all an interesting origin for such a cool word and is perhaps something that would have better remained lost to history.
Next up … 88!