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Corsair
Chris Bunch
Orbit UK, 406 pages

Corsair
Chris Bunch
Chris Bunch is the co-author (with Allan Cole) of the Sten series and the Anteros trilogy from Del Rey. On his own, he is the author of the Shadow Warrior, another SF series from Del Rey. Both Ranger and airborne-qualified, Chris Bunch was part of the first troop commitment into Vietnam, a patrol commander and later a combat correspondent for Stars & Stripes. Later, he edited outlaw motorcycle magazines and wrote for such magazines as Look magazine and Rolling Stone. He even wrote for prime-time television.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: The Last Legion
SF Site Review: The Demon King
SF Site Review: The Seer King

Past Feature Reviews
A review by John Berlyne

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Pirates and magic! It would be hard to put these two ingredients together in a fantasy novel and not come up with something to delight one's readers. Chris Bunch has established a large fan base with his highly acclaimed Seer King Trilogy and is highly regarded for his collaborations with Allan Cole -- their Sten series has sold well over a million books. Writing solo this time, in Corsair, Bunch has come up with a salty sea-faring yarn that will transport you to a place far more exotic and interesting than wherever you are right now!

Gareth Radnor is a wistful and frustrated youth. Bored with his life in a small coastal fishing village, he yearns for a life of adventure on the high seas. This is, of course, a classic case of being careful what you wish for. On a fishing trip with two friends, he relates these deep desires to them only to return to shore to discover the village has been ravaged by pirates and his parents have been slain. His life is changed forever.

Taken in by his uncle, a rich merchant in the great city of Ticao, Gareth adds revenge to his list of reasons for wanting to go to sea. His uncle attempts to persuade him of the advantages of staying on dry land but the boy is adamant. Out one night with some new-found friends, a prank goes badly wrong, resulting in the death of crooked nobleman. Gareth, displaying the kind of courage that stands him in good stead later in the novel, stands forward to accept the consequences. But his uncle has connections and therefore, instead of facing hanging for this "crime," it is decided it might be best if he disappeared for while. Ergo, Gareth gets his wish and is soon sailing out of the harbour and beginning the rest of his life.

Corsair is great fun and offers just the kind of escape one wants in a work of fantasy. We follow Gareth as he finds his sea legs. He rises through the ranks, performs audacious acts of courage and soon enough commands his own vessel. His dearest wish, though, is to have his revenge on the Linyati -- the pirate slavers who murdered his family and continue to terrorize the seas. He sets about this task and... well, you should read the book to find out what happens!

I really enjoyed Corsair. It isn't based on any historical truth -- the places and settings are imaginary and Bunch's (or rather Gareth's) pirates are a rather decent and democratic lot. Occasionally, the author slips into pirate cliché, complete with "Yah-haaa" dialogue, but even if it is hard to establish whether pirates really spoke like this, it is clear that they ought to have done so! I'd like to have seen greater use of magic in Corsair -- the magical content seemed almost incidental, hazily defined both in cause and effect. If there are more novels to come set in this world (and I hope there are many), I would like to see Bunch bring the magic to the forefront as much as he does the swash-buckling.

Corsair is a quietly political story too, arguing as it does the advantages of the democratic system and condemning the evils of slavery. These themes are superbly understated by Bunch who, far from using his novel as a soapbox or manifesto in which he bludgeons the reader, chooses rather to subtly underscore the story with these more serious points. The effect of this lifts Corsair from being simply a romp into the realms of the intelligent and sincere.

Anyone who has enjoyed Robin Hobbs' wonderful Liveship Traders series or the king of all pirate fantasy novels, On Stranger Tides by Tim Powers -- a novel that should be compulsory reading for everyone -- should take a look at Corsair. It has everything you want in a novel of this type -- sea monsters, booming cannons, and caskets overflowing with treasure. Hugely enjoyable stuff.

Copyright © 2001 John Berlyne

John Berlyne is a book junkie with a serious habit. He is the long time UK editor of Sfrevu.com and is widely acknowledged to be the leading expert on the works of Tim Powers. John's extensive Powers Bibliography "Secret Histories" will be published in April 2009 by PS Publishing. When not consuming genre fiction, John owns and runs North Star Delicatessen, a gourmet food outlet in Chorlton, Manchester.


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