I love pirate stories. Even though I know real pirates were mostly ugly, foul smelling, and thoroughly despicable men who were the exact opposite of honorable or protective it doesn’t have the slightest affect on how I feel watching Hook in Once Upon A Time, reading about Rowen in Unhooked by Lisa Maxwell, or writing about my own character Tiernan in Ari (which you can read here).
Actually, I love most stories set on tall ships. The ones with attractive pirates and/or captains with smoldering good looks are best, but good nautical writing can make up for a lack of romance. The Aubry-Maturin novels are fantastic examples of good shipboard writing, and I recall enjoying James Fenimore Cooper’s Red Rover as well (I’m due for a re-read on that one). In fact, my only real complaint with Unhooked was that we didn’t spend enough time talking about the ship (which I’ll admit would have been out of place, given the fact that our narrator isn’t familiar with ships).
Well, on to my actual review. Unhooked was Lisa Maxwell’s 2011 NaNoWriMo novel, which gives the rest of us hope that such projects can eventually become published. The story is a dark retelling of the Peter Pan story, and you can click here to visit Goodreads and get a summary. The story itself is unique, paying just enough homage to Barrie’s Peter Pan while staying original and unpredictable.
I really like what Maxwell did with most of the characters. Our narrator, Gwen, has an interesting voice, a relatable presence, and an intriguing backstory that we don’t learn too quickly or too slowly. Her love interest, this story’s Captain Hook, is well developed and the tragedies of his past are handled well and not brushed to the side for a happy ending. Peter Pan is also an excellent character, hitting the right mix of alluring and terrifying. Secondary characters are a little rougher. Will is a solid character, but Gwen’s best friend suffers from plot points that don’t allow for enough development to let readers connect with her (trying not to give spoilers here). All in all, though, I didn’t feel that detracted much from the story.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It wasn’t exactly a profoundly meaningful novel that’s going to redefine me or heavily influence how I write, but it was a fun read. The writing is solid, the characters are engaging, and the themes are dark and thoughtful enough that I never felt I was reading a “fluff” book. I recommend it to those who love fantasy, classic retellings, and stories that are darkly serious without straying into horror.