“Blackhearts” by Nicole Castroman
5 out of 5 stars.
“Blackbeard the pirate was known for striking fear in the hearts of the bravest of sailors. But once he was just a young man who dreamed of leaving his rigid life behind to chase adventure in faraway lands. Nothing could stop him—until he met the one girl who would change everything.
Edward “Teach” Drummond, son of one of Bristol’s richest merchants, has just returned from a year-long journey on the high seas to find his life in shambles. Betrothed to a girl he doesn’t love and sick of the high society he was born into, Teach dreams only of returning to the vast ocean he’d begun to call home. There’s just one problem: convincing his father to let him leave and never come back.
Following her parents’ deaths, Anne Barrett is left penniless and soon to be homeless. Though she’s barely worked a day in her life, Anne is forced to take a job as a maid in the home of Master Drummond. Lonely days stretch into weeks, and Anne longs for escape. How will she ever realize her dream of sailing to Curaçao—where her mother was born—when she’s stuck in England?
From the moment Teach and Anne meet, they set the world ablaze. Drawn to each other, they’re trapped by society and their own circumstances. Faced with an impossible choice, they must decide to chase their dreams and go, or follow their hearts and stay.”
“Blackhearts” was such an amazing read! The story and concept of Nicole Castroman’s debut novel had seemed quite promising from its summary, but the reading material of the first part of this year has been a little spotty; some good and some not so good. I was wary going into “Blackhearts” because I desperately wanted to fall in love with the story and its character, and goodness knows I have a weak spot for historical fiction, but I was afraid that it would turn out to be another novel that did not reach out to me. I should not have worried because “Blackhearts” was the diamond in the rough that I had been searching for, and I was deliriously happy by how wonderful Nicole Castroman’s debut novel ending up being!
Nothing makes me happier than when an author writes a book that honors the historical fiction genre. I love how books have to ability to not only transport me to a different place, but to also help me discover and learn about something that I had little to no knowledge of before picking them up to read. Historical fiction, when it is well done, is the icing on the cake for me because it combines the magic of literature with facts and knowledge, and my favorite novels usually involve historical themes and events or a fantastical world that mirrors ancient cultures. When I had heard that “Blackhearts” was a historical novel based off of the life of the elusive pirate Blackbeard, I was as excited as I was wary, because some historical books can read like a dream, whereas others can be a bit mundane to get through. But let me tell you, “Blackhearts” is the kind of novel that reads like a dream.
Nicole Castroman is a truly gifted writer, and I fell in love with how she wove history into her retelling of Blackbeard’s life. I felt like I learned new things about the late 17th century from reading “Blackhearts,” and it was one of those books that seemed to just pull me into its story, characters, and era from the first chapter. Another thing that I admire about Nicole Castroman was how she was able to write such vivid characters who seemed to belong in the late 1600s, but who also resisted the restraints and the prejudices that existed during their time. Anne and Teach pushed against the boundaries of the world they were a part of in ways that made sense for the time period and what they had been raised to think and believe about the world. How they fought against their situations in life made perfect sense to me, and it made this story, their story, feel real, as if it could have been a part of history. I was so pleased to read a book where the mindset of the era was not disregarded in the protagonists, however wrong it may have been, for convenience’s sake. I was happy to see Nicole honor the historical facts and atmosphere, while still writing two amazing characters who were era appropriate, but who also thought for themselves and saw the world differently than those around them.
I loved Anne as a heroine. I thought that Nicole did such an amazing job of writing a female character who had been mistreated most of her life, but was not jaded into becoming a mean, abrasive person. Anne had endured a lot over the course of her life due to her heritage and what people perceived as “polite” society, and despite being driven to do a few unsavory things, her past and present did not strip away the determination and goodness of her heart. She was a strong female who stuck to her guns without becoming too intense or overbearing, even when what she really wanted was to be with Teach. Nicole did an amazing job of writing a genuine feeling character who responded to situations and acted like a person from her time would have, while still being a witty, independent female with a mind of her own. The ease in which Nicole seemed to mix historical facts and what we all love to see in female characters together made me love “Blackhearts” all the more, and I also loved that Nicole Castroman wrote a male character who was just as intelligent and independent as Anne.
I did not fall for Teach Drummond right away. I had been hearing many good things about this book and its characters, and how Teach was very similar to Ross Poldark from “Poldark,” which is a new favorite BBC show of my sisters and me, and so I was quite excited to meet Teach Drummond. The opening of “Blackhearts,” however, did not paint him a hero’s light, which made for an uh-oh moment, and I was worried for a little bit that I would love everything about this book except its hero. Despite the more…abrasive introduction, I ended up falling in love with the character that Nicole Castroman wrote, and I adored how I gradually began to care for Teach over the course of “Blackhearts.” Edward “Teach” Drummond was destined to become the dreaded pirate Blackbeard, and that should have repelled me on some level, but instead I found myself slowly falling in love with this character as he began to show me that he was an extremely dynamic and likable character. The more I got to know Teach, the more I liked him, and I loved the side of him that Anne brought out whenever they were together.
I completely fell for the slow-burn romance that blossomed and bloomed between Teach and Anne in “Blackhearts.” I loved that Anne and Teach started out mildly hating each other, because that meant there was no love at first sight for this couple. I think that was great decision on Nicole’s part because it led her hero and heroine down the path of them getting to know one another for a little bit, rather than them just being obsessed with each other. Nicole Castroman’s approach to Teach and Anne’s romance was perfect for this book because of its historical and fantasy foundation, and the progression of their relationship felt deliciously slow, even if this book did not span over that much time. I also liked the fact that both Teach and Anne were kindred spirits because of how they felt confined by the meaningless perceptions and expectations of the upper classes and “polite” society, and how they wanted to travel and see the world. Teach and Anne were individuals who desired more out of life than to just play the game that those in power had created, and I liked that they did not read like rebellions teenagers but like mature individuals who saw what was wrong with their time and wanted for it to change. Anne and Teach’s relationship felt well founded, and I thought that it felt genuine and was perfectly paced for who they were.
Most of the people who did not like “Blackhearts” thought that it was not “piratety” enough, and they were right. This book is not a pirate book, it’s a story about a young man and his journey to becoming one of the worlds most infamous pirates. What people disliked “Blackhearts” for was exactly what I loved it for, though; it was a strictly historical romance novel with a twist, not an adventure novel. The majority of YA books that I read are supposed to be epic tales of protagonists going on a journey where they find themselves and become heroes, with maybe a little (or a lot of) romance thrown into the mix. Nicole Castroman’s choice to write something a little bit different from everything out there made “Blackhearts” feel unique in how I got to know the characters and how the pacing made this story unfold. This book was a coming of age story, but I loved that there was not much action because its absence allowed me to have enough time to bond with Anne and Teach and to feel truly worried about what might happen to them. The lack of action almost made this book more suspenseful because I was drowning in my fear and sadness as to how Teach and Anne’s story would end. Oh, and let me tell you, those last few chapters hurt. The ending of “Blackhearts” was what I deem a “quiet heartwrencher” (just read Nicole’s book and you will understand what I am talking about!), but I thought that it was, in sense, perfect for the story that Nicole Castroman had told and for who her characters were. It was beyond bittersweet, and I loved it!
Overall, “Blackhearts” was the perfect read for me. This novel was a completely immersive experience with its beautiful, slow-burn romance, its wonderful main characters, who were just right for the time they were supposed to have lived in and for each other, and the historical facts woven throughout it. The ending was also perfectly bittersweet, and it left me with quite the book hangover. Nicole Castroman is an amazing writer, and I cannot wait to see what she has planned for her second book, “Blacksouls.”