“The year is 1716—the Golden Age of Pirates. An orphan who sleeps in the dusty kitchens of a quayside brothel, Merrin Smith is desperate to unravel the secrets of her past and find the truth about the events that brought her to the Caribbean island of Isla Perla as a child. Disguised as a sailor, and with the help of her longtime friend Claudette, Merrin joins the crew of the pirate ship Riptide, helmed by the notorious Captain Erik Winters. Tenacious and rumored a madman, Winters is known as much for his ruthlessness as for his connection to the enigmatic and beautiful proprietress of the Goodnight Mermaid, Evangeline Dahl, who vanished from Isla Perla two summers before.
At sunset the Riptide sails for the mythical island of Bracile, a place hidden between air and sea and that exists only for a moment every two years, and which has never returned any man who has sailed for its shores. The journey will be perilous and long, and it will take Merrin far away from the only home she’s ever known. Because she can read, Merrin will serve as the Captain’s apprentice, deciphering old texts for clues to the island’s whereabouts as the ship sails through haunted, frozen waters and into the very heart of the ocean. As she struggles to navigate the rough, seafaring life aboard a pirate ship, Merrin must keep her identity hidden from the scrupulous gaze of not only Captain Winters, but also Mister Brandon Dunn, the ship’s surly, legend-spouting quartermaster, and Tom Birch, the charming boatswain Merrin can’t help but feel drawn to.
As the Riptide makes its way to Bracile, Merrin begins to suspect that the men she has worked so hard to deceive may in fact be more connected to her than she would have imagined, and that perhaps her own past might have more to do with the Dunn’s legends and myths than she ever could have guessed.
In The Isle of Gold, Merrin Smith must face perilous waters, cursed sea goddesses, and the embodiments of some of the ocean’s most terrifying legends as she not only struggles to survive her journey, but to find the answers to the mysteries of her past.”
The Isle of Gold is a delightful, well researched and evocative historical fantasy that succeeds in bringing a fascinating era to life. I absolutely adore pirate based fantasy so you’ll have to excuse me if I fangirl about this one a bit. It’s very much my jam. 🙂
We open with our main character, Merrin Smith, and her closest friend Claudette – Merrin is (for want of a better word) absolutely shitfaced drunk and about to do something very stupid indeed. Believing that the key to uncovering her mysterious past lies on the mythical island of Bracile, she has disguised herself as a man (an act punishable by death if she is discovered) and plans to join the crew of the Riptide, helmed by the notorious and unpredictable pirate Captain Winters. He intends to sail for Bracile in search of his lost love, the wild and tempestuous beauty Evangeline Dahl, who he believes has been kidnapped by the sea gods themselves. Though he is suspicious of Merrin’s disguise, Brandon Dunn, the ship’s formidable quartermaster, agrees to give her a place on board the ship. At first she tries to keep her head down while she struggles to find a position within the crew, but it soon emerges that Merrin is able to read – a rare and valuable skill. This leads to her being recruited by the Captain to aid in deciphering the many texts he has gathered for his research. Whether or not this is a good thing remains to be seen, for the Captain has grown cruel and bitter since Evangeline’s disappearance. Merrin’s situation is complicated further when she finds herself drawn to the ship’s kind and handsome boatswain, Tom Birch. Will she blow her cover for love? Will she find out the truth of who she really is? Will the crew of the Riptide succeed in their quest to find Evangeline? Why is the rum gone?
It’s an enchanting read, reminiscent of classic tales I grew up on, such as Treasure Island and Robinson Crusoe. Merrin is a charismatic protagonist and a good example of a strong female lead: capable and mentally tough, yet vulnerable and constantly aware of her physical limitations in a crew manned by muscular and morally ambiguous men. The supporting characters are distinct and captivating in their own right, each one receiving a vivid description that makes picturing them very easy. Indeed, one of the great strengths of the novel is in Jane’s exquisite descriptive prose. If, like me, you find that a large part of the joy in reading a nautical fantasy lies with the arresting imagery of billowing sails, turbulent seas, tropical islands and colorful characters, you’ll definitely want to give this one a look. 🙂
The worldbuilding is another area in which The Isle of Gold excels. Featuring many real life sailor superstitions and details, Jane touches on everything from ghosts to sea monsters to Davy Jones himself. It’s clear that she did a lot of research on not just pirates, but the day to day running of a ship – at one point she even takes a playful dig at some of the common misconceptions about life onboard a pirate ship via Merrin’s inexperience. The dialogue is strong, each character given quirks, interests and a distinct manner of speaking based on their region of origin – the crew is a ragtag group made up of characters from all over the world, some having joined the crew voluntarily and others having been captured during battle. There are exciting twists and turns throughout, though the pacing does suffer a little in the latter half during some of the big reveals. The ending in particular is a little abrupt, but the epilogue does an excellent job of softening the blow and setting up for the next installment.
It is an often emotional tale of the importance of family (both blood and chosen), and of longing to find one’s place in the world – while there is some grey morality, The Isle of Gold is largely a hopeful affair, and most of the characters are good people at heart. If you’re looking for something purely gritty and grim, this isn’t it. However, if you enjoy highly visual nautical fantasy with a healthy dose of romance and whimsy, I strongly recommend it.
For me it was incredibly enjoyable and I’ll look forward to the next entry.
The Isle of Gold releases 10/9. Thanks to Netgalley and Black Spot Books for the ARC!
Bingo Squares 2018
- Reviewed on r/Fantasy
- Historical Fantasy
- Published in 2018
- Fewer than 2500 Goodreads Ratings
- Features a God as a Character