The Czarina’s Buccaneer
1787. Rodion Kazansky, one of the remnants of the Zaporizhian Cossacks after they were disbanded by Catherine the Great, finds himself in need of the Czarina’s help to wreak vengeance on the Tatars who had enslaved him. To obtain that aid, Rodion is sent on a mission to learn how to sail ships like the British, leading the Cossack into some unlikely places.
Michael Regal does a wonderful job of concocting a first-person voice for Rodion, particularly at the beginning of the novel, where he sounds believably like a voice from the past but without becoming stilted. Rodion is revealed as a charming but dangerous man whose brutal beginnings have moved his moral compass toward callousness.
There are, however, some issues that may give some readers pause. First, Regal has opted to have a freed slave speak in dialect. It could be an accurate depiction, but there have been so many opportunities for racism in Black dialect that it may take modern readers out of the moment. Second, there are some very graphic moments of violence. Third, the two gay characters in the book are a bit stereotypical, which is a little problematic given that the other characters are often homophobic. Finally, there’s Rodion’s oft-repeated call for personal liberty, which often disregards any oath to any government, sounding like an apology for Libertarianism.
The book doesn’t slow until it goes to an entirely third-person account, and it loses some of the sparkle it had when Rodion was the narrator. The last section of the book feels a little rote, veering more into military historical fiction, whereas the rest of the book focuses more on the characters.
Despite these moments, The Czarina’s Buccaneer is mostly a fast-moving, engaging read that manages to pull you into its world.