It’s never easy to blend instruction or a morality play into an adventure narrative (or any kind of narrative), but someone at Oni Press has a knack for finding properties that do that well. James Vining’s First in Space and Scott Chantler’s Northwest Passage both managed to be simultaneously entertaining and educational, and now Chris Schweizer’s Crogan’s Vengeance pulls off the same trick.
When Eric Crogan gets into some minor, modern-day mischief, his father plucks a story from the family tree to reinforce the importance of making good choices in bad situations. Dad starts with “Catfoot” Crogan, a young sailor who found himself mixed up in piracy and politics in the very early 1700s.
Catfoot isn’t particularly ambitious, but he has a good skill set for seafaring. Too bad his unstable, sadistic captain takes an immediate loathing to the lad. When pirates set upon the ship, the crew is forced to choose between defending themselves (and almost certainly dying) or throwing in with their attackers. They choose the latter in the first of several junctions where Schweizer pits pragmatism against morality.
It’s both fortunate and unfortunate that Catfoot is a natural strategist. His plans put him in good stead with his new captain, but they inspire lethal jealousy from other superiors. And while Captain Cane would rather intimidate a ship into surrendering its cargo, he won’t scruple to murder an entire crew if they don’t play along. Cane has his own moral code about piracy, and while Catfoot isn’t persuaded by it, he knows it’s better than the bloodthirsty approach of Cane’s second-in-command, D’Or.
So what’s a basically decent quasi-pirate to do when Schweizer presents him with an even higher-stakes impasse? The fun is in finding out, and I won’t spoil it, but I will say that Schweizer has a real feel for the tone of morally murky subjects. His assessment of pirate life is frank (though not graphic) but not preachy or overstated. He never romanticizes the pirates’ criminality, but he acknowledges that degrees of depravity that can exist within a criminal subculture. And he argues persuasively that decency can survive in that subculture and emerge as something unique and purposeful.
It’s a great-looking book. Schweizer’s engaging, energetic cartoons keep the story moving along very nicely. There’s a lot of chatter, which is necessary if Schweizer is to describe the pirate milieu in a useful way, but varied page layouts and good pacing keep the talky bits from stalling the action. In fact, they’re an essential part of the action. Keith Wood’s design for the hard-cover presentation is very handsome, giving off a classic vibe that isn’t stodgy.
I suspect that it’s the kind of book librarians will love, sturdy, smart and snappy. Better still, Schweizer promises fifteen more looks into the sprawling Crogan clan, from explorers to escape artists to secret agents. (It would be nice if the Crogans had some noteworthy women on the family tree, but you can’t have everything.)
(This review is based on a complimentary copy provided by the publisher.)