This post is a tie-in to a Reader vs. Reader post that Drea and I did over at Teen Services Underground.
After reading several less-than-sterling reviews, the idea of having to not only read, but finish this book was daunting. But this wasn't an optional, snagged-it-off-the-shelf read. I had a duty to my co-blogger and our readers to do the deed. Thus, I approached Blackhearts as I assume big-game hunters approach a safari: a mix of bloodlust and anticipation and other primal, one-note emotions. I was gonna do this. I was gonna rip this to shreds.
But, guess what? It wasn't that bad.
Now look, I'm not saying it was good. But it also wasn't mind-rendingly horrific. It's sort of like breaking your leg and having it put in a cast. On one hand, there are so many things you can't do because your leg's in a cast, dangit. It hurts and your skin gets all weird and peel-a-rific underneath the plaster. It's sweaty and things start to smell a bit manky and it's all-around not a great experience. However, at least you have a cast on instead of walking around on broken bones and sending them shooting through your skin, thus necessitating amputation of the limb due to gangrene or some other horrific infection.
Why yes, I do sit around contemplating the myriad ways I could get sick and die/lose a limb. It's a special talent.
So this could have been compound-fracture painful, but I sailed (pun fully intended, please and thank you) right through the book with a minimum of suffering and actually discovered a few flashes of good storytelling along the way. Let's dive in!
Ostensibly, Blackhearts is a book about Blackbeard before he became Blackbeard the Pirate and was just a handsome English lad named Edward "Teach" Drummond. What it actually is? Well, it's a fluffy historical romance that failed Harlequin 101.
Anne Barrett works as a housemaid in the Drummond household. The daughter of an English trader and one of his slaves, her appearance causes others to be uncomfortable. Her fellow maids torment her, and the housemistress takes every opportunity to slap, beat, or box Anne for the most minor infractions. Anne, however, retains her dignity and remembers that her father claimed her, loved her mother, and always cared for her. She's determined to escape England and go back to the West Indies to, as we say, "find her roots." To this end, she swipes a candlestick here, a tchotchke there, in the hopes of selling them at the market and raising the funds to purchase passage on a ship.
One day, at the market, Anne has had enough with the merchants trying to get some extra favors from her and clocks an impudent young man right between his legs with a bucket. As you probably guessed, this is the master's son, whose return from a year at sea is wreaking havoc with the house staff. Whoops.
Awkward first encounter trope? Check.
Protagonists initially hate each other? Check.
Sickbed scenes? GIANT CHECK.
Sexy horseback scenes? Check and check.
Suddenly, in the span of a few days, Anne and Teach are totally, completely in lurve. All I could picture was some pectorally-gifted male model strutting around his estate and telling the housemaid how much he desires her because she completes him or some other romance-y pile of dung.
The narrative, which was already moving at a relatively brisk clip (with all of the above accomplished in the first half), goes into turbo mode to try and cram a bunch of disparate plot points into the book so that, presumably, they can be dragged out and beat to death in the next book. I felt like I was reading a giant run-on sentence in book form. Something to the effect of:
"Teach's evil fiancée was mad and then he got accused of piracy because as we know from his visit to his father's ship there are scurrilous dealings afoot and he figures it's his mortal enemy who happens to be Anne's half-brother, who, when revealed, hoofs it to parts unknown, leaving his half-sister's true parentage revealed so she gets elevated in the Drummond household because CONVENIENTLY Master Drummond is her guardian and she is a fancy lady and going to marry Teach except OOPSIES forgot to put the stolen goods back bye bye Anne on a ship exit, pursued by a pirate."
Dangit I forgot the pregnancy.
Jamming all of that stuff into about a hundred pages is simply a recipe for narrative disaster. Nothing feels authentic. Characters have radical changes of heart over the course of a few paragraphs. Argh, matey! Me head! Pass the rum!
However, I must say that it's really not all bad. In Anne, Castroman has created a biracial heroine who never becomes passive, not even when she's in love with Teach. She reprimands him and insists on living her own life, despite being in love. Anne is unapologetically fierce and sneaky and I really loved her character. She was the best part of this book. And, yes, I admit that the ending made me curious to see what would happen in the next book.
Overall, this is a fluffy, vaguely historical romance for people who need some cotton candy in their literary lives. There's really nary a whiff of pirate here, so if you were hoping for some Jack Sparrow magnetism, look elsewhere. Like ... Pirates of the Caribbean.