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Empire of Blue Water    by Stephan Talty order for
Empire of Blue Water
by Stephan Talty
Order:  USA  Can
Crown, 2007 (2007)
Hardcover, CD, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Sally Selvadurai

To most modern ears, the name Captain Morgan immediately conjures up one thought, rum, but this was not always so: To the Spanish of the mid-1600s, Morgan's name was feared beyond any other; his vicious privateering, pillaging and looting in the Americas was more than enough reason to flee the admiral's forces or pay the ransoms that he and his pirates demanded.

Henry Morgan was a mere soldier of fortune when he headed out for glory with a large fleet put together to make inroads into the lucrative trade in the Americas. England was at war with Spain, and this presented a great opportunity to wrest some of Spain's riches from her. The first assault on Jamaica was disastrous as English invaders learned to deal with the heat, disease and ineptness of its leaders, but throughout Henry Morgan took stock and learned how to manage and lead disgruntled men. It was Morgan's leadership ability that made him a fabled, and notorious, leader: Once Port Royal was taken by the English, Henry Morgan gathered together privateer bands and sailed out to take Spanish ships and conquer and loot Spanish cities, all in the name of his King; Morgan was a fiercely patriotic individual, while at the same time amassing wealth from the plundered treasures. His democratic leadership style, which gave each individual sailor (or pirate) shares in the loot, with 'health care provision' for severed limbs, loss of sight, etc., and extra shares for bravery, earned him the respect and devotion of his followers.

Stephan Talty does an admirable job of bringing to life the larger-than-life story of Captain (and later Admiral) Henry Morgan. This book reads like one of the best pirate novels, but is in fact a true story: No wonder tales of pirates and pirating have remained popular through the ages. Morgan went on to become governor of his home base, Port Royal, and, in the name of the king, showed no leniency towards his old buccaneer shipmates once the monarch had signed a peace treaty with Spain and outlawed pirating. Port Royal was a thriving but vice ridden city that was brought to a catastrophic end some four years after Henry Morgan's death when a severe earthquake flattened most of the buildings. Upon reconstruction, the city never regained its role as the hub of commerce that it had previously enjoyed perhaps because one of its most renowed citizens was no longer around to breathe new life into it. Empire of Blue Water is a most enjoyable read - and hard to believe it's actually true!

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