“1716: For as long as men have set sail, they have told stories about the sea—of its women, of its treasures, of its beasts and of her. She’s been given many names by the sailors who have traveled her waters. Calypso, Amphitrite, Ursula, Melusine. A goddess, a queen, a witch, a daughter. In all of these, she is the sea, and the sea is a cruel mistress.”
Get ready for a rollicking ride on the high seas with a bunch of hardened pirates and a fanatical Captain in “The Isle of Gold,” by Seven Jane. At first glance, I assumed this would be a quick little read as the book clocks in at a mere 237 pages. Instead, “The Isle of Gold” turned into a meaty escape that combined the best of pirate lore and seafaring mythology in one fun story.
Our narrator is Merrin Smith, and on page one she is disguised as a man in order to gain berth on the infamous “Riptide,” helmed by the even more infamous Captain Erik Winters. Merrin’s goal is simple: she wants to find out who she is and where she came from. As an orphan, she was dropped on the island of Isla Perla and sent to work in the kitchens of a brothel. Isla Perla is a typical pirate inhabited Caribbean island—loud, dirty, and filled with brothels and fighting miscreants. Yet it’s not lawless. Captain Winters rules along with his love, the mysterious and beguiling Evangeline Dahl. But Dahl has disappeared, and Winters has made it his life’s work to bring her back. So he’s setting sail for “the fabled Ogygia, the surreptitious Isle of Gold where Calypso had held Odysseus prisoner.” Aka, Bracile. And Merrin believes that place holds the key to her identity.
Merrin is drunk as a skunk as she stumbles into the tavern to apply as a shipmate for the journey. Mr. Brandon Dunn, the ship’s quartermaster, is suspicious of him from the start and it seems she won’t even make it out of the tavern. However, Captain Winters makes an appearance and she’s hired to sail with a bunch of men who want nothing to do with her. She is still disguised as a man and no one seems the wiser but her inexperience at sea doesn’t endear her to the crew. Luckily, Dunn discovers that Merrin can read and so she’s sent to the Captain’s quarters to help him figure out the best route to the fabled island.
As Merrin adjusts to life on the sea, she starts to truly enjoy herself. She gets a sense that she belongs here amongst the rough men of the Riptide. There is Mister Clarke the ship’s doctor, whose gluttony has him bringing his own store of meat on board. Jomo the cook, whose African backstory is fascinating. Rounding out the cast is Tom Birch, who causes no small amount of problems for Merrin as she finds herself becoming more and more attracted to him.
The lazy days at sea soon turn into peril as the Riptide makes its way across the Atlantic towards Bracile. And reaching that destination will test everyone on board with Merrin being a key that she could never have imagined. Here “The Isle of Gold” turns to mythology and at once you feel as if Odysseus himself is breathing over your shoulder reading a story that sounds so familiar.
“The Isle of Gold” is escapist storytelling at its best. Merrin details the saga as if she is reclining in a soft, leather chair next to a blazing fireplace and you are her captive audience. It’s lyrically descriptive and took me out of this world so much I could smell the salt air and hear the creak of the ship. Seven Jane blends piracy and mythology splendidly and I thoroughly enjoyed the time I took delving into it—it makes me want to search out more pirate-themed stories. “The Isle of Gold” was a lot of fun, even if there was nary an Arrrrgh to be had. If you’re looking to forget what’s going on outside your door, taking a journey on the Riptide may just the answer you’re looking for!