The Pyrates (1983) and The Reavers (2007) - George Macdonald Fraser

George Macdonald Fraser is quite an accomplished writer. In addition to the Flashman novels, for which he is most famous, he wrote the only screen adaptation of The Three Musketeers worth watching (although the less said about The Return of the Musketeers the better), a book of serious history and more. He also wrote two books, nearly twenty-five years apart, which are a whole different kettle of fish. In The Pyrates and The Reavers, GMF discards any pretense of historical accuracy and jams together history, Hollywood's take on history, and any old other thing that takes his fancy into a comic mish-mash.

The Pyrates is set in the glory days of piracy that never existed. A cast of characters, each more stereotypical than the next, romp through a plot that never even comes within spitting distance of plausibility. Anachronism dot the prose like blueberries in a muffin which has quite a lot of blueberries in it. It's glorious. Here's a small taste:
Sentries stood outside the strongroom, but the long stone tunnel to the watergate lay deserted, and from the sea-steps outside the fitful light of the torches shone on empty water to the little harbour entrance. Above on the battlements other sentries lolled - those dispensable sentries of fiction who doze at their posts in their ill-fitting uniforms, mere cannon-fodder to be knocked on the head or smothered by agile assailants, or at best wake up too late to fire a warning shot and yell, "Turn out the ... ugh!" If the commandant had lined the walls of that lonely fortress with entire force, instead of boozing and stuffing and throwing his wig aside in the carouse, all might have been well, but of course he didn't. They never do.

The Reavers
, through written later, is set earlier in the days of Good Queen Bess. Well, inasmuch as it could be said to be set anywhen since the liberties with history are just as cavalier as in The Pyrates. (To be fair, he didn't actually put any Cavaliers in The Reavers, although he might have done .) The plot is lifted almost straight from The Man in the Iron Mask, if that plot had been executed by a bunch of incompetent and mostly incomprehensible Scottish border raiders in the pay of dastardly Spanish agents.

The two are much of piece. Overall The Pyrates is the better book, with a lighter and yet more convoluted touch. The Reavers suffers a bit from the late 20th Century references which are occasionally amusing but sometimes seem a bit forced, such as a computerized scrying cauldron. Fraser does have a good time with his reivers, though, and the dialects and turns of speech he gives them are worth the price of admission. (A lovely ballad contains the following verses,
Then up and spake bold Trouserless Will:/"Sir Prising gi'e the map tae me,/ Wi' my reading specs/ I'll find the X,/ So good King James shall oor prisoner be."/ "O, tak' the map bold Trouserless Will,/ And your skeely specs fu' well tae see,/ My dochter's hand/ And a gowd hat-band/ Ye shall hae for this service done tae me."
You get the idea.)

Both are chock full of unrealistically super-human heroes, improbably full-figured women foul and fair, charming rogues and the like. Don't take these books as representative of GMF's work as a whole, but do take them, please. And enjoy.

Overall Grade: Pyrates A, Reavers B-

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