Written by A. M. Dellamonica
About a century ago, as the portal flickers, on a sea-glutted world dotted with hundreds of tiny island nations, there were five barren, unpromising little rocks whose people made their living by attacking the ships and coastlines of the weaker nations of Stormwrack.
Piracy! The word conjures up dashing, seafaring renegades. Errol Flynn! Geena Davis! Cutlass-wielding outlaws loose on the high seas, puncturing the egos and draining the treasuries of government buffoons and rich, wig-wearing bastards with twee accents. How jolly! Not quite carrying on like Robin Hood, you understand—there’s no great piratical tradition of giving to the poor—but still, definitely stealing from the rich. Why steal from anyone else?
In fiction and in Hollywood, pirate characters run a villainous gamut. Take the oily, spineless Captain Hook of Neverland, the bumbling yet somehow cuddly Captain Jack Sparrow, or all the varied ruthless and bloody-minded enemies of Captain Flint, in Black Sails.
We romanticize our pirate characters, usually, just as we create mafiosi who are charming (if occasionally murdery) criminals. They are outlaws, sticking it to the system. Or misunderstood. Perhaps, some stories suggest, they’re even a little admirable.
On Stormwrack, the world where the Hidden Sea Tales takes place, pirates weren’t cuddly; they were a deadly nuisance, sowers of misery. It took a massive military effort, gobs of unsexy statecraft, and a lot of magic to (mostly) bring a halt to the raiding and looting that had destroyed so many ships, countries, and lives.
End it the Fleet of Nations did, for just over a century. But in my trilogy’s first novel, Child of a Hidden Sea, a woman from San Francisco stumbles upon a first attempt by old-guard, traditional pirates to break up Stormwrack’s peacekeeping fleet and go back to the predatory ways they too romanticize and see as a sort of cultural imperative. Ah, the good old days! Wasn’t it awesome when all we ever did was loot, pillage, take slaves, go raiding, and count up the booty?
In that first book, the Piracy tried but failed to trigger a treaty-shattering war, one that would have let them get back to the business of pillaging. Now, in the upcoming The Nature of a Pirate, they have targeted the Fleet’s weak point, slavery, an issue that often strains the political alliance almost to the point of breaking.
As a writer, I found it entertaining to think about piracy as a cultural construct. Once they had been defeated, how did these five rogue nations get by? Four are unrepentant, obeying international law out of necessity, using their loot to play the money markets, and sulking over their defeat. The fifth, the penitent nation of Issle Morta, has established a monastery that attempts to make reparations for old crimes.
How do you dress, think, feel, and talk if you’re a pirate who can’t openly practice piracy? As a defeated nation with a bloody reputation, what do you teach your sons and daughters about the past? Creating a narrative where the attackers became the attacked, wronged, maligned, and banned from a legitimate cultural practice, they spent generations claiming the right—the hereditary privilege, you might say—to test the weak at sea. In so doing, they have created a long-standing grudge and nurtured a longing among their young to bring back the days of the sword.
In The Nature of a Pirate, new intrigues are in the works.
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