Shepherd's devilishly clever debut isn't just a swashbuckler, nor is it just an historic thriller or a police procedural or even an allegory with a soupçon of magical realism. No. It's an elegant admixture of several genres and a smashing feat of derring-do that roller coasters between the 16th and 19th centuries. And although there is a satisfying conclusion, it is less important than the ride. With all its twists and turns, there is a singular free fall that clinches the story, making the whole thing exceptional.
In 1564, young Billy Ablass is bound for Plymouth, there to make his fortune, hoping to return to his beloved wife Kate with enough money to set themselves up on a fine farm. Maybe to raise a family. But from the moment he steps aboard the Jesus of Lübeck with the blackguard John Hawkyns, we and Billy become awash in the gritty romance of high seas adventurers who...
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