Series: Blackhearts #1
Published: February 2016
An origin story for Blackbeart, Blackhearts follows the teenage Edward “Teach” Drummond and one of his household maids, Anne, as they fall in love with each and dream about finding their freedom on the sea.
Blackhearts is being marketed as a Blackbeard “retelling” and as a pirate book, but readers who go in with that expectation are likely to be as disappointed as I was when I first starting reading the story. It becomes apparent fairly quickly that the ocean and seafaring at large are not going to feature in Blackhearts; that, presumably, will be saved for the sequels. Rather, readers should approach Blackhearts as a historical romance that vaguely explains how the teen who will become Blackbeard developed a rebellious streak and a love of the sea.
Unfortunately, I didn’t love the book even as a historical romance, but readers are divided on this issue, so there’s still hope for you if you were looking forward to this book. (I picked it up because Stephanie from Chasm of Books simply wouldn’t stop gushing, so I recommend talking to her if you loved Blackhearts too or want to be re-convinced you should pick it up.) Personally, I wasn’t invested in the relationship between Teach and Anne, even though I think Castroman actually does a great job of writing some swoonworthy lines. I know some readers take issue with Teach as a love interest, but that’s not my problem. Yes, he’s a bit of jerk, but we’re talking about a man who’s going to grow up to be a viscous pirate (and who’s rumored to have, uh, offered his wife to his crew). So it makes sense to me he’s rough around the edges. I still just wasn’t into Teach and Anne as a couple and didn’t feel a real connection.
I also felt the plot was a little bland. As I said, I was expecting pirates, and I didn’t get any, so that was the first major letdown. After readjusting my expectations, I felt Blackhearts was just very standard YA historical romance fare, and the book really does read as the first book in series. It’s clearly leading up to something else, rather than trying to be fully interesting as a self-contained story. This just isn’t my favorite type of series because I dislike feeling as though I’ve only read the first third of a story, and haven’t even reached the main “point” yet.
Finally, I admit I had a lot of nitpicky problems with the story, and I would not be surprised if readers who read a lot of historical fantasy type books had similar issues. For instance, Anne is constantly fingering a gold watch in her pocket that no one knows she has, and any fantasy fan knows you don’t constantly reach into your pocket in public unless you want to alert people you have valuables there and have them stolen. I was also confused Anne claims to have pockets sewn into all her dresses in the first place, because such pockets are anachronistic. Lastly, I think Castroman could have done more research on service and the roles of maids. Anne seems to be a catch-all servant without a clear role, and she oddly keeps ALL the change from the money she is given to take to market, and somehow no one realizes she’s stealing it. A smart protagonist would give some of the change back, though a smart housekeeper would know how much change the maid should have. Maybe this is unfair, but the lack of attention to detail here makes me a little worried about how well Castroman is going to research ships and sailing for book 2.
I realize this is a fairly negative-sounding review, but I didn’t hate Blackhearts. Mostly I thought it was okay, just not remarkable. I think if readers go into the book knowing it’s not a “pirate book,” they’ll be in a better place than I was while reading it. From there, it’s primarily a matter of how much the reader connects with Anne and Teach and their relationship. It wasn’t right for me, but I think a lot of readers will love this book.