The Ballade of Mary Reede

Written by Norman Schell
Review by Loyd Uglow

John Tanner, a young Englishman trained as a ship’s carpenter and groomed for command of a merchant vessel of his own in the early 18th century, has the good favor of important men in the bustling Atlantic and Mediterranean trades. On one star-crossed voyage to the West Indies, Tanner’s ship runs afoul of the fearsome pirate Calico Jack Rackham. Forced into service aboard the pirate vessel, Tanner must fight for life and eventually for love on a sea where every man’s cutlass seems to be against him.

With a sure hand, obviously the product of meticulous research, author Norman Schell infuses the twilight of the Pirate era with vivid and realistic life. More than that, though, he captures that world through the eyes and clear voice of Tanner in a way that makes readers feel they are sitting across a rough table from an old shipmate in a Bristol grog shop. The tale is not a mere swashbuckler but the poignant recounting of the defining adventure of one man’s life, in which he is caught in the inexorable grip of a fate that he can only rail and struggle against.