Well written historical fiction should cause the reader to wonder what really happened – to ask what in the story is fact and what is not. If the story is well executed it should be told without anachronism or other annoying flaws, accurately depicting the period in question. Ultimately it should be the kind of story that leaves the reader thinking that if things didn’t happen exactly this way, perhaps they should have.
The Valkyrie Series is a pirate tale with a love story of two thrown in to the mix. In the background it also points out some of the more glaring social issues of the period such as colonial exploitation, slavery and greed along with the institutionalized oppression of women and man’s inhumanity as contrasted to the desire for freedom of choice.
Karen Perkins begins her tale with Ill Wind, a novella length story that introduces us to 14-year-old Gabriella Berryngton. Set in the late 17th Century we are transported back to a time with very different rules. Although her story begins in colonial Massachusetts Bay her father arranges for her marriage of convenience to Erik the son of a wealthy Dutch businessman named Jan van Ecken. Against her will she is taken aboard a ship to the Caribbean island of Sayba. On the way she learns that van Ecken’s business associations are at least questionable and, as the story progresses, she learns that she is aboard a pirate ship. Her adventure as well as a great deal of suffering at the hand of overbearing and oppressive men is just beginning.
Gabriella begins as an innocent girl but rapidly becomes experienced in the darker aspects of the real world into which her father is forced her, a dangerous existence defined by wealth, slavery and nefarious dealings with some unsavory characters.
The second book of the series, Dead Reckoning is a true novel in length and in structure. It is told from the perspective of two character, Leo Santiago who we met briefly in Ill Wind and Gabriella van Ecken, the previous is bent on revenge against the pirates that tortured and raped his mother before killing her and the latter seeking escape and freedom from her imprisonment as the nominal wife of Erik.
Dead Reckoning has the feel of a epic journey into the world of privateers marauding the Caribbean. Again the attention to detail in the descriptions of the ships and the character’s clothing is second to none. The level of accuracy makes it easy to lose oneself in the adventure, getting so involved in the story that you continue to think about the character and wonder at the outcome of their stories long after you set the books aside. Karen Perkins is herself an accomplished competition sailor, so it comes as little surprise that the nautical terms and descriptions of the ships, their rigging and the basics of how to sail such marvels of construction is meticulously factual, leaving the reader feeling as if he or she has learned something and might even be able to survive aboard such ships.
The third installment of the Valkyre series is Look Sharpe! Having read the books in the numerical order as perhaps intended is not necessary, though. Since Karen Perkins structured the story from the perspectives of its several main characters the reader might actually start by reading Look Sharpe! and gain a different perspective on the characters and their stories. Though I found Dead Reckoning to be the most complete novel in a traditional sense, each of the three installments has its strengths as a story.
The risk of telling a story from multiple perspectives is that the story gets lost in all the background details and the reader gets bored with hearing the same bits told over and over, albeit from differing perspectives. But here Perkins takes care to avoid redundancies. Although there is some overlap in the details, having each character’s unique point of view is actually enlightening. The way Perkins presents the material is effective instead of distracting. However, there is a huge problem in structuring a story as multiple character profiles. And the Valkyrie Series story arc suffers in the process.
There is a different way of presenting the story using a mixture of character point of view and chronological order. In order to create the story in such a manner the entire story must be drafted first then arranged into a logical flow. The difficulty in this method is that it is time consuming and requires an author to extend work on an epic tale such as this over a span of years instead of the usual few months it takes to draft a novel.
My problem with giving any of the books in this series a complete endorsement is that two of the other books feel incomplete as novels and the one that merit the title, Dead Reckoning, leaves many questions unanswered. Look Sharpe! answers the questions of who is Henry Sharpe and why does he act as he does in assisting the events in Dead Reckoning. I can assume that the soon to be released Ready About and the short story Where Away also serve to fill in the backstory’s details.
Structural problems aside, the Valkyrie Series has a lot to offer for those who love historical pieces about pirates and high seas adventures. The character based story telling delivered in first person lends intimacy in the connection between the reader and the characters making for a enjoyable read. Had the story arc of the entire series been used as an overall structure for telling the series from the perspectives of Gabriella, Leo and Sharpe (and perhaps Magdalena) I believe the books could have made a stronger impact as works of epic adventure literature. Perhaps, once the story is completely told, the author might reorganize the various parts and tell the story chronologically through each character’s perspectives.
The quality of writing is first rate with only a few minor editing errors. Some of the spellings are peculiar to the period and the fact that the author is British. Single quotes are used in dialogue, which is not a big deal to American readers who have read some British authors in the past. Because of the manner of telling through the eyes of multiple characters there are jumps in time and a few instances of overlapping events seen from different points of view.
Regardless of the structural shortcomings of the series I highly recommend these books. Perkins is a gifted writer. Her characters live and breathe for the reader.
To buy on Amazon.com:
Ill Wind : http://tinyurl.com/omwgyml
Dead Reckoning: http://tinyurl.com/qbkpurv
Look Sharpe!: http://tinyurl.com/op6e88l
#pirates #HighSeas #Adventure #Caribbean #KarenPerkins #romance