Did you know there are both good and bad pirates? In Fish by Gregory Mone, when Fish (whose real name is Maurice) is forced to join the crew of The Scurvy Mistress, he doesn’t know one kind of pirate from the other.
He also doesn’t care. His sole mission is to retrieve the bag of gold coins which Nate had stolen from him. When the head pirate Cobb decides that his crew will sail their ship to lay in wait for a freighter bound for America, Fish launches his own “raid”. He finds the gold coins that his uncle had entrusted him with and attempts to deliver them to their rightful owner. Unfortunately, Fish gets caught. In the interrogation that follows, Fish learns that some pirates are raiders while others are seekers. The “raiding” pirates believe that attacking every ship in the water is the swiftest way to fortune. (These are the bad pirates.) In contrast, “seeking” pirates prefer to undertake challenging quests. The Scurvy Mistress is manned by both types, a division which eventually leads to a mutiny.
Before Fish learns whose side everyone is on, or even figures out for himself which side he should take, he spends hours swabbing the decks of The Scurvy Mistress clean. Fish also fills his stomach with dreadful gruel and hardtack. And he sleeps on ragged bits of old sailcloth in one corner of the main cabin. If that doesn’t sound too grand, why would Fish agree to stay? Well, earlier in the story, the family horse dies, and Mr. Reidy declares that one of their children will have to work in the city and send home money to help out. Unlike his eight other siblings, Fish is inept at farm work. For that reason, Fish is taken into town to work for an uncle. Fish is actually on the way to deliver a bag of coins that his uncle entrusted him with, when Nate robs him. Being honorable, Fish pursues Nate—even when this means climbing aboard a menacing boat. Thus begins an adventure where Fish not only has to decide which pirates to defend, he also faces other choices. For example, should he interfere with Cobb’s orders, when a fellow pirate is sentenced to walk the plank for betraying the crew? Or should he fight when challenged to a duel, despite his abhorrence of violence? Although Mone isn’t blatant about themes, he does interweave into Fish the values of family, friendship, pacifism (which might seem like an oxymoron in a pirate book) and being true to self. Their subtle inclusion is part of what makes Fish stand out from typical adventure stories.
Time to talk treasure! Every good pirate story must include it. Fish is no exception. Initially, all that anyone on board knows is that head pirate Cobb seeks a treasure that will render the ship’s treasure chest of coins “as worthless as pebbles and stones”. Cobb also promises that every member of the crew will receive a share large enough to buy a herd of horses. That’s enough to make Fish give up on the idea of retrieving that bag of coins his uncle gave him. Remember how I mentioned that there would be a mutiny? Well, the treasure also causes some divisions among the other crew members. To reveal anything beyond this little enticement would spoil your reading of Fish. What I can tell you is that in the years before Mone wrote Fish, he’d arrange treasure hunts for his nieces and nephews. Each hunt grew more elaborate and complex, until eventually his nieces and nephews asked Mone to write a pirate story. The result was Fish.
Before I conclude my review, I also need to praise the description in this book. It is so meticulous! For example, this is how Mone paints Fish’s dive into the undersea world: “The line dragged him through a multicolored world full of purple, fernlike waving plants, giant yellow rocks covered with small grooves and challenges, fish of all shapes and colors.” And here’s how he portrays Cobb: “He was distinguished, with tightly curled gray hair, fine clothes, and the stem of an unlit pipe held between his lips. His ears were large, pressed back flat against his head, and his skin was tanned, with a faded but thick red scar on his chin. A thin, pronounced nose added to the air of nobility.” As for the treasure, sorry, but I still can’t tell you about it. Now I recognize that all this attention to details might bore those who grew up on video games of non-stop action and movies drowning in special effects. Most readers will however love the opportunity to settle into a rip-roaring tale of an unlikely hero on the high seas.
After all, what better adventure could one ask for than a soaking-good seafaring pirate story about a treasure hunt? There’s even a dash of romance and humor. Just be sure that when you do borrow Fish, you can curl up for a long read. It’s that good!
My rating? Bag it: Carry it with you. Make it a top priority to read.
How would you rate this book?