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Is There Hope for Harvey?

By eikasia, author of Akumu Love Panic!

Oct 18, 2010: I was busy lamenting the lack of historical pirate adventures on WFG when I came across this story. Even so, what really grabbed me was the fact that there was a female pirate captain. Listed two years ago and lacking in any sort of reviews or strong ratings, my curiosity (or desperation for pirate goodness) was all that got me going. That said, here were my impressions:

Raging Gail is a pirate adventure that has been running since January 2008, though it was later listed in WFG in October of that year. The writer has been active ever since—a good sign. At the time of this review, James Ryan has 280 posts that range from 500-600 words average, and he updates twice a week.

As I was just coming in to the story, I faced a slight problem that Raging Gail’s original readers perhaps didn’t really find that big a deal. Mostly, it’s in the heavy handed recaps that James Ryan slotted in whenever continuing a scene from his last post. As I am reading this post-by-post, the experience got dragged down by this doubling back, however brief. When updating twice a week with posts that are as short as they are, shouldn’t the limited word count be dedicated to moving forward, I wonder? But this seemed mostly a problem in the beginning.

The writing generally seems to suffer from clunky slabs of text that at times feel awkward, disconnected, and other times colorless. And many times it feels like opportunities are lost. In the beginning of the story, the King Charles, a merchant ship taking Hope Harvey and her Uncle James to the New World, is overtaken by the Raging Gail, a notorious pirate ship that has terrorized the waters of the Americas. When the pirate ship started firing broadside, I expected to be on the edge of my seat. These moments tend to be very important, because if you can’t care for the character in the midst of action, then what’s the point? Where’s the drama? Where’s the attachment? And the sad thing is that it did NOT come. Why not, you ask? Why, when reading about young Hope dodging cannon blasts, snapped rigging, falling sails, and stepping with loud squeals over downed sailors, did I not care?

 . . . Because we DON’T hear about those things.

As you read about all of this trauma and conflict going on, there is virtually NO description of where Hope Harvey is, or what she’s doing. You’d think she’d flee below deck, or perhaps (in a fit of comedy) try to hide in a barrel. But no. We are simply told she “watches on in terror” like a “mast on deck”, and somehow in all this action she goes by unscathed. Left with nothing for my imagination to paw over, my attachment to Hope Harvey was non-existent. One example of an opportunity lost.

Amid the problems of characterization (or lack thereof) there’s some run-on sentences and awkward sentence structures that make me wonder if Ryan was trying to recapture some of the long-winded, matter-of-fact style of writing that was common in the 17th century. Maybe I’m just getting the emphasis and cadence wrong. Irregardless, it can be a bit tough to get through, but it seems my desire for pirates and awesome female characters is strong because I kept on.

As I explained before, Hope Harvey, despite her catchy name, didn’t grab me as a protagonist at the story’s inception. She seems the stereotype of the ordinary girl with a good heart somehow tossed into the lion’s den. Luckily, Abigail Sanders is introduced almost immediately, and we get to see the natural mastery and strength of character that she uses to command her ship.  . . . Or maybe I just love the idea of a ginger-headed pirate woman saying in a brogue, “That be a holystone. If ye not be accounting for yourself with music for the crew, then ye be making yourself useful otherwise swabbing the deck, on ye knees as though before God.”

On my knees? Yes ma’am!

And there you have it. My ability to read the Raging Gail was entirely dependent on my personal fetishes as well as an over-active imagination otherwise improving upon the many scenes I found unsatisfactory. Sometimes, there are little nuggets of gold here and there—romantic ideas of piracy and ship life that get lost in Ryan’s sea of dragging descriptions and glossed action. The colorful pirate speech is kind of fun, too. I can’t comment on the historical or nautical accuracy of the story, but it sounded solid enough. Only . . . that wasn’t really my concern. My concern was in being entertained, so I will say this:

If you love pirates, and love strong female leads . . . if you can slog through clunky writing, and have an imagination that can fill in the power that this story tends to lack . . . then the Raging Gail may very well be worth the effort. Abigail Sanders doesn’t REALLY start to show who she is until maybe Part 10, and it’s further still before we learn where she comes from. Hope Harvey doesn’t start coming into her own until much later, too. Part 25 had me smiling, genuinely. (Though let this be an illustration of just how long one might need to struggle with the story before strong interest is generated.) But even as we see more of who they are, there isn’t much in the way of originality. Captain Sanders strikes as yet another anti-hero, and Hope as another naive innocent who comes of age. In fairness, after writing for nearly two years with 280 parts posted, James Ryan could have improved a great deal as a writer . . . 

 . . . But I can’t honestly tell you, because I stopped reading around part 27. I may continue reading, as it seems things are just starting to pick up . . . but it’s a bit tiring, forcing my ideas between the lines.

And why struggle with a story that leaves me thinking I can write something better?

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beware: here be pirates!

By A. M. Harte, editor, author of Theatre of Horrors

Sep 16, 2009: Boat Story follows the adventures of Cait, Captain of The Rose. There are only 9 parts up, and, while off to a slow start, there are already several developing plot lines which seem interesting, amongst which: an evil killer pirate hunting for a map, a mysterious boy whom Cait rescues, and of course the tangled relationships between the crew of The Rose.

The world is a rather interesting one, with a mixture of human and animal races. Although much is left unexplained at the moment (understandably so, with so little posted!) there is a sense of careful world-building, of clashing politics between continentals and islanders and between animals and humans. The sea is (obviously) a pivitol setting, and it is interesting to see the various ways in which the influence of sea-travelling is shown, such as with a boat/circus.

The writing itself is quite good, although I think it could do with some careful proof-reading, as there are a smattering of typos. The story also occasionally falls into the ‘show, don’t tell’ pitfall, with back-story asides or descriptions which slow down the pace. It doesn’t help that the point of view in some parts jumps between characters mid-scene, which can be a little confusing. I think the story would benefit from having a deeper, more limited point of view, to give readers a point of reference in what is an unusual and unfamiliar world.

I also think this story could do with some editing for tighter copy, particularly to inject a little more suspense into the writing. This is a problem quite common to webfiction, especially so in the first few chapters, and so I expect the story will pick up quite soon.

The website is easy to navigate, so no complaints there. I also found it interesting that each chapter comes with story notes, giving background information and insight. Kudos to the author for that.

Overall, a unique fantasy tale melding mystery, pirates, animals. Recommended for sea-lovers.

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