Corsair by Tim Severin

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Corsair by Tim Severin

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Category: Historical Fiction
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: Appealing to fans of Conn Iggulden and Bernard Cornwell, the action here isn't quite so high-octane and the characters are perhaps not so appealing. However, this is made up for by the vast and interesting knowledge of 17th century military and seafaring life on display.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 256 Date: June 2007
Publisher: Macmillan
ISBN: 978-1405088886

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Seventeen-year-old Hector Lynch and his sister Elizabeth are sent every summer to study at the Franciscan friary in a small Irish village. They are snatched from their beds by Barbary corsairs and Hector is sold at auction in Algiers. He has no idea what has happened to his sister. Hector is sent for hard labour in the bagnio, where he makes a friend in Dan, a Miskito Indian from the Caribbean. Hector and Dan have individual talents - Hector is highly educated, while Dan is an artist and expert shot - and so, once they've converted to Islam, they soon find favour with their master and their way out of the bagnio. Their good fortune doesn't last, and they soon find themselves in slavery once more, this time in the French galleys. But Hector is still determined to find his sister...

Tim Severin is the stuff of legend himself. He has recreated some of the most famous journeys of all time and in doing so has captained an Arab dhow from Oman to China (as Sinbad), a leather currach from Ireland to Newfoundland (as St Brendan the Navigator) and a bronze age galley from Greece to Georgia (as Jason searching for the Golden Fleece). There is something impossibly romantic and appealing about these journey recreations, don't you think? And so it's no surprise that Corsair is impeccably researched and full of the kind of detail the average writer of historical adventure novels just wouldn't include. Much of it is absolutely fascinating and much of it too gently puts right many common misconceptions, much of it about the slave trade. Did you realise there were slave markets not only in the east, but in Livorno and Malta too? The book is wonderful too, obviously enough, for its seafaring knowledge.

Lots happens. And yes, some of it's a bit silly - coincidences abound and Hector Lynch has more adventures than was probably possible even in those rambunctious times. But that's what historical adventure stories are all about. One suspends belief in the plot in return for a happy escapist immersion in times gone by. I enjoyed Corsair although I did think it got a little bit heavy from time to time and I didn't feel much of an emotional investment in the characters. Hector Lynch didn't swashbuckle his way out of Severin's pages and into my heart, I'm afraid. But I did get a wonderful flavour of seventeenth century seafaring life and I am the better for it.

Corsair is recommended for fans of historical adventure more interested in the technical aspects of life than in characterisation and particularly for those with an interest in exploration, the slave trade, the war between cross and crescent and naval history generally.

My thanks to the kind people at Macmillan for sending the book. We also have a review of Saxon: The Book of Dreams (Saxon 1) by Tim Severin.

Those who enjoy a military aspect in their historical fiction might like Sam Barone's Dawn of Empire which talks about the building of the first walled city. You might appreciate Soldier of Fortune by Edward Marston but we had reservations.

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Buy Corsair by Tim Severin at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Corsair by Tim Severin at


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