A pirate ship, a treasure map, and a crew of orphans: how could even the most reluctant young reader resist such a premise? In her first novel, author Rachelle Delaney, a graduate of the MFA program at the University of British Columbia, tells the tale of the young crew of the ghost ship Margaret Hop as it races against the nasty pirates of the Dark Ranger to find a mysterious treasure that lies, legend has it, on a nearby island.
Delaney jumbles the heroes and villains together to great effect – young Captain Scarlet McCray must deal with crew members who would disrupt the smooth running of her ship, and her bloodthirsty adult rivals aboard the Dark Ranger reveal their soft sides at unexpected moments. These twists keep the story from slipping into predictability, and provide some of the most comical moments in the novel.
This comic tone reigns, from the colourful language the pirates – both young and old – toss off in conversation, to scenes of pure physical slapstick. Sometimes the comedy goes over the top, particularly where the cartoon-like and inept pirate marauders are concerned. Bloodthirsty and threatening one minute, they unexpectedly, and a bit disconcertingly, turn into babbling idiots when the “lost souls” take over their ship. Still, Delaney ensures there is room for drama among the laughs.
The characters range from recognizable pirate stereotypes to children whose sense of loss and longing is overwhelming. Delaney’s young heroes are compelling, especially Scarlet and Jem, the boy Scarlet rescues from the Dark Ranger after he is kidnapped. Jem’s cautious, principled approach to their quest seems at first to be in contrast to Scarlet’s apparently fearless determination to find the treasure before the pirates do. But as they journey together, it becomes clear they are much alike: brave, questioning, and unsure of themselves, but willing to take a chance on each other for the common good. Young readers will be cheering them on.