The Joneses & The Pirateers: Search For The Phantom Lady by S. L. Westgate

The Blurb On The Back:

Nine-year-old James and his sisters come from a family with a proud history of never having done anything exciting or adventurous, much to James’s annoyance.

He longs for adventure but gets more than he bargained for when a ruthless pirate captures his father.  James, Elizabeth and Emily find themselves stranded on the enchanted island of Tortuga – where the children of pirates live while their parents are off roaming the high seas.

The siblings must band together with a motley crew of orphan pirates-in-training to plan a dangerous rescue mission that takes them from shark-infested waters to explosive ocean battles to the brink of Davy Jones’s Locker … not to mention a sneaky search for the most legendary pirate treasure of all time.

The Review (Cut For Spoilers):

It’s 1708.  9-year-old James Jones lives in Grimsby with his father (a doctor) and his older sisters, 12-year-old Elizabeth and 11-year-old Emily.  But Dr Jones has been getting more and more forgetful since the death of his wife (the children’s mother) so Emily decides that a fresh start is in order and when she sees an advert for a new doctor to serve Britain’s colony in Bridgetown, Barbados, she thinks it’s the perfect answer.

Unfortunately for the Jones’s, the ship they’re travelling on to Barbados is attacked by the notorious pirate, Captain Silverbeard who kidnaps Doctor Jones to work on his own ship but leaves the siblings on a remote island. Fortunately, they’re rescued by another pirate – Captain Piggleby who takes the children to Tortuga, an island inhabited by pirates and their families and where the children of pirates are sent to a magical school where they can learn the trade for themselves.

Despite Elizabeth’s efforts to stop Emily and James from embracing the pirate life, the trio band together with young pirates-in-training Bal, Dani, Young Nick who help them to navigate island life and try and come up with a way for them to get to Barbados and mount a rescue mission for their father.  It’s not long before the Jones’s are learning the sea-faring skills that all pirates must master.  And where there are pirates, treasure isn’t far behind …

S. L. Westgate’s debut historical fantasy novel for children aged 9+ (the first in a trilogy) shows a lot of research on historical pirates, includes a lot of action and has some nice ideas with the magical pirate school but there’s an awful lot going on here and it affects the pacing (which is very uneven in places) while also cramming in a lot of characters (some of whom I lost track of) such that I’m not sure I would rush to read on.

Westgate throws a lot of plot into this book and there’s no shortage of action from the background on the Jones’s and their family set-up, their encounter with Silverbeard, their rescue and developing friendship with Bal and his gang, the rivalry with the Scandalous Sea Devils (and resulting competition), the quest element set by one of the pirate teachers and then the children’s desire to try and rescue their father all with interludes from the mysterious and malevolent Davey Jones.  To be honest, for me there was simply too much and I wished that one of the storylines (perhaps the rescue, the legendary treasure map and the Davey Jones storyline) had been punted into the next book in order to give the world building and characters time to breathe because events tend to get crammed together, which affects the pacing and makes the novel sag in places.

The Jones children are likeable enough.  James is the main protagonist with Westgate dropping hints as to potential magic powers or destiny while Elizabeth is very much the sensible parent figure, trying to keep her siblings on the straight and narrow and Emily is very much a mischief maker, as much up for adventure as James is. I liked the way their friendship with Bal and his gang develops and there’s some good pirate-related humour with their dialogue and misunderstandings, which the target audience should enjoy.  I did find Dani and Young Nick to be a little underdeveloped and I thought that their backstories came a little late to be invested in them.

The fantasy elements are well handled with the pirate school and its teachers proving to be imaginative – to the extent that again, I wished that the plot had been slowed down to have more scenes in the school to give a good sense of how everything works, the lessons, gangs and so forth.

Ultimately the book was simply too busy for me and really needed to be pruned back but I think that there’s more than enough here for children to enjoy and although I wouldn’t necessarily rush to read on, I think it would strike a chord with the target audience.

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