Hoisting the Colors: Reviewing Born Under The Black Flag

While I’ve been grumbling quite a bit about the various problems with 7th Sea Second Edition, especially the metaplot, I have to say that I’ve always been curious how they would handle the novels.

The first novel, Daughter of Fate (which I reviewed here), was thrown to us with little warning beyond the promise of it from the Kickstarter. There were no hints as to what to expect within it; we just got a story that expanded on Théah in some ways and moved in it’s own direction.

This time, we were given hints.

In the Pirate Nations book, on page 93, we are introduced to Captain Thomas St. Claire with the typical half-page blurb, but with the addition of a tiny black sidebar stating that we will be learning of his backstory within a novel.

This, me hearties, is his story.

Current mockup.

Note: This was the early draft of the story, so some changes may be made to the final version. Please keep that in mind as you read this review.

==The Pitch==

Born Under The Black Flag tells the tale of Thomas St. Claire, a famous pirate that, for nearly a decade caused problems for the Republic of Pirates (Brotherhood of the Coast) and was known to be a vile, cutthroat villain. It’s a tale of villainy, treachery, and more importantly, St. Claire’s redemption.

From the blurb we were sent:

He was the Bane of the Seven Seas. A ruthless villain who killed and plundered every port in Théah and beyond. But something happened to him out there on the waves. Now, he hunts down those who prey on the weak. What happened to transform one of Théah’s most notorious villains into one of its most famous heroes?

Born Under the Black Flag is the story of Thomas St. Claire. It begins with his early days as a blood-thirsty pirate and tells the story of his transformation and possible redemption.

==What You Get==

The book weighs in much shorter than Daughter of Fate, coming in at 232 pages (about 100 pages shorter).

In this book, we are given St. Claire’s life and current adventure, jumping back and forth in time with relatively clear dates (at least years) while moving at a brisk pace to cover all that ground in a properly dramatic fashion.

==The Good==

Like Daughter of FateBorn Under the Black Flag moves at a brisk pace that doesn’t leave you bored for long, if at all. Even though it is brisk, it doesn’t lose you in the process; not once did I feel like things were moving too fast or too slow, but I do have the advantage of having read the other materials to not be confused as I was reading along.

Unlike Daughter of Fate, the early draft of this was not as rife with typos and errors, which means more care is being spent in the writing process or more editing is being done before it goes out to backers. Still, it’s nice to know that I’m not finding an error every few pages this round.

I personally enjoyed the type of wit we see in the story. Snarky one liners tend to make me chuckle, and there are a few good ones in here that I would see a group of 7th Sea players use at the gaming table.

In this novel, we get to see the new version of Reis, combat abilities and all, which gives GMs some fodder and ideas for how to stat her for their own games.

That said, one of the best parts of this book is how it acts as sample scenes and window dressing for the game. It’s basically a sample as to how a game could be run, albeit with focus on a single character instead of a general crew, but it’s still something to work with. The  various combat scenes are a solid fit in with 7th Sea’s new mechanics, and the narrative can easily be translated, which is always a vital thing for  books based off of tabletop games.

==The Bad==

From a literary standpoint, the writing style wavers between audiences. Some of the language used (mostly swearing across the board including that “four letter word” that gets books banned in some states) would have this book leaning toward the adult audiences, but the sentence structure (especially short sentences), frequently simple word choice, and general simplistic descriptions would lean this toward a teen to young adult book.

Content-wise, the story starts off strong, but in the last quarter it starts to fall apart. We are presented with too many deus ex machina to make the latter parts believable (such as character knowledge, easy acquisition of things in a near warzone, sudden “peaceful” conversations, etc), which makes the work feel a bit sloppy. There is also a scene in which we have an epic confrontation that should end everything and was where I expected the book to end, but we are given a “but suddenly!” moment that incorporates additional (and currently unused) elements of the setting, such as undead, monster hunters, and other forms of magic. It was a rather odd thing to have tossed in while the rest of the story was about redemption and the evolution of this new hero; it’s almost like it was shoehorned in to be possibly relevant later or as a sign of “Hey, this is a theme of the setting, don’t forget it!” In the end: sloppy.

Like Daughter of Fate, we are still presented with random words and phrases in other languages, but nothing is presented to translate them such as a footnote. Some of them can be determined easily enough, such as individual words in Spanish, French, or German, but it gets a bit tougher with full sentences in any of these languages (and my French is rusty) or even individual words/phrases in Lithuanian. I’ve submitted requests to remedy this in the surveys for this and for Daughter of Fate, but since nothing was changed in the previous book, I doubt it will happen.

We are also presented with things that still aren’t explained in the rulebooks (such as strand colors, yet again), which does detract a bit for those who aren’t really that well-read into the lore of the game, and again, requires those of us old hands to often rely on data from the first edition to make it pan out.

==The Middle Ground==

Like the other works in 7th Sea Second Edition, I feel there was a bit of baiting here with the “inclusion” of a non-hetero character at the beginning of the book (St. Claire’s mother), who’s marriage/spouse is mentioned in passing before moving on. Again, it felt like an extraneous detail that was tacked on to say “We’re being inclusive” instead of having a purpose or adding to the story (i.e. we’re not given the orientation of any other character besides St. Claire and his potential exploits). Might not necessarily be bad, but it irks me.

In this novel, we also see the return of a  specific character from Daughter of Fate, but it’s difficult to get a solid feel for how old said character is or how long since the events of the previous novel have passed, as we were not given dates in the previous novel. I won’t spoil it, but it was rather odd and made me question the timeline again.

==The Verdict==

As Born Under The Black Flag feels more “complete” than Daughter of Fate, I will give it a rating of a middling 3 buns.

The story is a partial trope of a villain-turned-hero, but it’s decently done in typical, dramatic 7th Sea style. The tale is a fast paced string of events that could be just as comfortable in a book as it would be at the gaming table or even on the big screen.

While there are points that makes the editor in me cringe and force the storyteller in me to take a backseat and stop jabbering at inconsistencies, it’s not a bad story and gives some faith to the overall metaplot of the franchise, especially since there inklings of what we should expect to be seeing on a global scale.

Born Under The Black Flag is the second 7th Sea novel by John Wick. The draft was sent to backers on May 23rd, with review surveys due on June 4th and estimated final copies to come out sometime later this year.

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