Pirates of the Caribbean Meets The Time Machine in Sally Copus’s BlackHeart’s Legacy

Self-published novels can be a bit of a drag. If you’ll permit me to generalize (and possibly invoke the wrath of self-publishing authors everywhere), a large majority of those I’ve read have been frankly atrocious. Terrible grammar. Zero plot arcs or, worse, piled-on predictable plot twists. Clichéd characters lying woefully flat on the page. Sure, publishing independently allows an author free reign over the creative process. And yes, it could be considered an “easier” path to publication because you’re doing it yourself. But sometimes all that hoity-toity business involving line-editing, copyediting, plot development . . . sometimes those pesky services big publishing houses or trained editors provide are, well, necessary and germane to producing a readable book.

With that potentially controversial rant being said, I will also admit that every so often, I come across a self-published novel (young adult and adult alike) or work of nonfiction that completely wows me with its put-togetherness (yes, I know that isn’t a word). Some are even on par with, if not better than, many of the books that wind up on bookstore and library shelves via the traditional publishing path. BlackHeart’s Legacy by Sally Copus is one such novel and, lucky for you, it lands right smack in middle-grade territory.

BlackHeart’s Legacy (i.e. Book One of The Odyssey of Jon Sinclair) opens with the perfect kid-coveted hook: a seemingly foolproof plan gone terribly asunder. Alistair and Kathryn Sinclair—12-year-old Jon’s grandparents and guardians following the death of Jon’s parents in a mysterious  plane crash—are busy making preparations for a trip aboard their time-travel capsule Carousel. In tandem with Jon’s studies in school, the voyage is chartered for 1776 Philadelphia, just in time for the signing of the Declaration of Independence. While retired NASA employee Alistair won’t be making the journey this time around, Grammy goes along for the ride to prevent any mishaps from occurring.

But, of course, mishaps will—and do—occur. With a loud bang and a classic science-fiction glurp, Grammy and Jon soon realize that the ship’s navigation device has malfunctioned, sending them careening to the shores of 1692 Port Royal, Jamaica, instead. And you know what that means . . . pirates! After a wayward “exploration stroll” through the jungle all by his lonesome, the ever-naïve and lovable Jon is kidnapped by the crew of the Black Opal led by the notorious Captain BlackHeart, while Grammy—disguised as a boy named Gramm—gains passage as a cook on the ship of BlackHeart’s conniving rival, Shark Scar, in hopes of eventually crossing paths with Jon and planning their collective escape.

Already a delicious page-turner, the novel begins to pick up speed. Bring on the clever surprises! First and foremost, the natty BlackHeart isn’t as nasty as he initially seemed, especially since taking Jon on as his personal cabin boy. It’s easy to root for him as he mines shipwrecks for hidden treasures and fights raging storms and fierce battles with gnarly buccaneers aboard rival ships. Gramm’s grandmotherly resourcefulness in winning over Shark Scar’s mutinous crew is both cunning and amusing (one wonders if there’s a little Gramm in Copus), and Alistair’s unexpected appearance toward the end of the novel baring news from the future of a cataclysmic earthquake adds an element of urgency to an already nail-biting finale.

To read the rest of this review, please visit Letter Blocks: The B&N Parents and Educators Blog.

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