Friday, April 12, 2013

Book Review: The Pirates! in an Adventure With 5 Books (2004 - 2012)

Gideon Defoe is the creator of The Pirates! series of books which was recently adapted in to an Aardman Studios/Dreamworks Animated film, The Pirates! Band of Misfits. According to urban legend/his official authory blurb thing, when Defoe bumped into a woman he had pursued during his time studying archaeology and anthropology at Oxford, they began chatting about what they were up to. Realising that his job temping for Westminster council was not going to win him any romantic points, he told her that he was writing a novel. She asked to see it, at which point he found that he really was writing a novel. His manuscript was originally circulated among friends, who photocopied it and passed it on until, eventually, it fell into the hands of a literary agent. Then they spent $60m on making a movie of the first one.

Here is a brief look at the series book by book for those of you unfamiliar with the work. It starts with a bang and then repeats the formula with varying success. Pretty typical book series pattern I'm sure you'll agree.

The Pirates!: In An Adventure With Scientists
The Pirates!: In An Adventure With Scientists by Gideon Defoe

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Words To Consider Before Embarking on A Piratical Adventure With Scientists:







If you feel you are not yet ready to become entangled with these and other similar words you may want to spend a week in your local library's section on Pirates! for Dummies before picking this book up.

Aaarghh! That scurby knave, Gideon Defoe, is some sort of comedy genius, his debut novel reads like a Frankenstein's monster-type creation that is part Lemony Snicket, part Douglas Adams, part Terry Pratchett with a dash of Monty Python thrown in for luck. It is a wonderful celebration of contemporary and classic British humour with the added bonus of starring luxuriantly bearded pirates and upon completion I would describe my mood as (c) excitable.

There is a not so subtle scene featuring a wrestling match between a scientifically created Man-panzee and a human created "Holy Ghost" and asks important scientific questions such as "who is the tallest pirate in the world?" I especially liked seeing which pirates were selected to walk the plank in to shark infested waters and how the main theme of the book is ham.

For those of you love a map this one features two, one on the inside of each cover, helpful for discovering the location of "The Tent With An Out Of Control Teen" and how to avoid sailing in to that great big compass in the corner of the Atlantic.

This was recently turned in to a movie by Aardman studios and quite unashamedly I am here today to admit my only prior knowledge of this book comes from having seen that movie several times. It's quite brilliantly funny, being simultaneously completely different yet entirely the same as the novel, a rare feat and provides you with two entirely separate adventures to burst your sides over.

I've seen this sold as a children's book and I've seen it categorised as Young Adult but unless the version with the movie poster as it's cover is abridged in some way I don't think I would advise giving this to a child, teenagers perhaps, but not children; there are multiple deaths throughout (including a fair maiden who takes a cannon ball to the head) and a fair amount of running through with cutlasses. But a pirate adventure without several people run through by cutlasses would be like asking a pirate not to eat ham, cruel and unusual.

If you stumble across this in any format I assure you that you will have a great time and if you;re ever looking for a gift for somebody there's no way you can go wrong with a book about pirates with luxuriant beards, especially if they are the significant hipster in your life.

The Pirates! In An Adventure With WhalingThe Pirates! In An Adventure With Whaling by Gideon Defoe

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Have at you, you scabrous coves! Here be humourous treasure as The Pirates! have an adventure with whaling that features that miserable old pirate Ahab.

Things you might learn about during this adventure:


Whale Conservation


Multiple uses for physeter macrocephalus

The migratory course of the accursed Great White Whale

How The Pirates! once had an adventure with a mosquito

All the things I said about the first book remain true for this one, Python, ham, Discworld, cutlasses, Snicket, 42, it's all there and this time it's a lot less episodic and more a case of humour squeezed in to the story of Moby Dick/desperately trying to avoid being sliced and diced by angry debtors who The Pirates! wish they'd never borrowed money from.

BUT it's just not as brilliantly stupid as the adventure with Scientists. There are a lot of belly laughs and it's still too rude to be suggested reading for children but it felt like Defoe had either run out of ideas or was desperately trying to be a bit sensible at times.

I am still looking forward to more adventures with The Pirates! especially as the list of titles listed as being available in the series include one with Jennifer Garner, one with the G.O.P. and one where The Pirates! get sexy. But first I shall move on to The Pirates! In An Adventure With Communists as it's the only one left in my local library.

The Pirates! In An Adventure With CommunistsThe Pirates! In An Adventure With Communists by Gideon Defoe

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Avast, ye scurvy cur! The Pirates have returned in a further adventure to locate their missing prized ham in the silky folds of Karl Marx's bushy beard!

The Pirate Captain will astound you with his vast array of philosophical conundrums and entertain you with a book filled with both Wit! and Wisdom! You too can learn the true facts behind maintaining discipline whilst running a pirate boat, the existence of God and the Question of gravy stains!

This third adventure is filled with even more belly laughs than ever before. I was concerned that this might be one of those ideas destined to be ruined by ever diminishing returns, the same jokes regurgitated repeatedly to less effect, but Defoe has out Pythoned himself this time around, writing a story filled with brilliant imagery and wonderful facts told in a light hearted manner featuring characters that (quite surprisingly actually) seem to be growing from one adventure to the next. Marx, Engels, Wagner and Nietzsche are the notable guests this time around as Communists get blamed for drowning kittens, stealing valuable art, making women wear underwear and other assorted atrocities.

Remember folks life is like a big shanty. Everything will be fine so long as everyone sings in harmony. But if someone plays a duff note on the accordion or tries to break-dance at a sensitive bit, there there will be all sorts of trouble, mark my words.

The Pirates! In An Adventure With NapoleonThe Pirates! In An Adventure With Napoleon by Gideon Defoe

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The Pirates! return in their fourth adventure, this time to a desert island to raise bees and argue with Napoleon. Only they seemed to forget to pack the humour in their suitcase for this trip.

Far from the gut busting, rib bruising hilarity of previous adventures this one barely raised a smirk, fatal to a series that relies on its humour to sustain interest through its meandering "plots" and absurd situations.

There was a four year gap between this and the fifth instalment, here's hoping Defoe recovered some of his wit and enthusiasm in that downtime.

The Pirates! in an Adventure with the RomanticsThe Pirates! in an Adventure with the Romantics by Gideon Defoe

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Yes! Finally! Defoe blends his rapier like wit with an actual plot and finds success!

“Babbage's Three Laws of Difference Engines

First Law: A difference engine must have at least six cogs.

Second Law: A difference engine must be able to operate a loom.

Third law: A difference engine must be able to kill a man, should the mood so take it.”

Do you want to see Ruth squeeze ten ping pong balls in to her mouth? Would you like to witness a pie-chart that causes children to clap and laugh in delight? In this fabulous fifth adventure The Pirates! take to a boat that bled blood, win two tickets to a corpse factory and run around screaming "barnacle!" at every opportunity.

Hired by Lord Byron, Percy Shelley, Mary Shelley and Charles Babbage to provide exotic adventures containing romantic elements, mild peril and foreign travel whilst on a dull vacation to Lake Geneva The Pirates! sail from Lake Geneva to the Romanian mountains in their most exciting, not to mention humourous adventure yet.

“You don't know what it is to live and laugh and love and run a man through! You've never tasted salty air on your tongue or waved heartily at a mermaid!”

If you were to take a poll of people reading you might find a lot of votes for great use of ham in a nautical setting, there may even be several readers who enjoy the excellent names created for the motely crew of pirates but guaranteed that majority will tell you that the best bit about reading a book about The Pirates! is all the running through that happens. Just ask Jeffrey Keeten about the time he ran a man through for daring not to wear a fencing cup in school colours if you are unsure of the unique pleasures a good running through can provide.

In true Defoe style this adventure meanders from one absurd moment to another but almost as if the five years away provided more than a huge paycheck from Dreamworks/Aardman studios, a refreshing break from what appeared to have become a dull chore for him and a chance to stock up on ham anecdotes, he must have studied with Robert McKee and managed to create a working plot and stick to it. I never had a real problem with his lack of plot before but when it appears from nowhere you realise what you;ve previously been missing.

Fear not Pirate lovers, this might be the fifth Pirates! book but it is not essential to have read them in order, if you have a willing seadog spirit begging to taste the salty air of a piratical adventure in the tradition of Monty Python and Douglas Adams then jump right in here, chances are you'll be an honourary member of the pirate crew in no time. And remember:

“You can't reduce passion and flair and eating ham to numbers, sir!”

View all my book reviews

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