Silver: My Own Tale with a Goodly Amount of Murder
By Edward Chupack
St. Martin’s Griffin
Release Date: January 6, 2009
Best known for striking a cutthroat figure in the classic Treasure Island, Long John Silver takes up the plume in Silver to recount with no regret how he became the lovable blaggard pirate fans have know him to be. And it’s not pretty. Silver has a way of making fast friends and killing them just as quickly, all while on a decades-old quest to find a mysterious treasure.
If you’re fearing a fanfic retread of classic waters, then you can rest easy. The pretense of the novel is a defeated post-Treasure Island Silver, who has been imprisoned on his own ship by an unnamed former hearty (shipmate). His only way of tormenting his captor — because what other scheme would the Long John Silver cook up? — is to write to him daily about the seafaring way of life and his life in particular.
Villainy doesn’t come easy, we see in this fictional autobiography. It takes a certain amount of moral bankruptcy, plenty of lies, and — if you’re doing it right — a significant body count. It’s the kind of career plan that necessitates an evil laugh or two, but Edward Chupack‘s Silver stays true to the psychopathic roots of its main character and narrator with a playful lyricism that’s all about piratry in the name of practicality. You’re hungry? Steal. Did that guy just insult you? Stab the bastard. For once, we have a main character who’s clear on what he wants and who he needs to kill to get it. There’s no moral compass in this book — and if there is one, it’s constantly pointing to kill.
While a laundry list of misdeeds could grow tedious, Chupack keeps things lively with a cast of gruesome characters and descriptions that draw you in. Though he writes in a clipped manner, Silver’s obsessive attention to every detail about the ship and those around him create a poetry that can’t be put down. Of course, it’s a poem heavily doused with stabbings, pillaging, and bodies being rolled off deck, but even those terrifying acts are recounted with an admiring, sometimes clinical, eye.
Unfortunately and unbelievably, Silver has its dull moments thanks to its over-inflated premise. Instead of just being a manifesto of the vilest pirate in the seas, the novel is Silver’s last chance to taunt his captor with his knowledge of a secret treasure and the pains he took to attain it. Far too many pages were wasted on talk of ciphers, codes, and present-day dialogue with a cabin boy who is sadly not Jim Hawkins. While both the codes and cabin boy eventually serve a greater purpose in the last pages, the novel would have made a better read had the real Silver had at these parts with his sword.
Overall, devoted Treasure Island fans will be happy to see characters like Billy Bones and Ben Gunn take up the sword again, and for those who just have an affinity for pirates there’s still plenty to love. Appropriate pirate jargon spices up every line, and surprisingly doesn’t get in the way, while Silver recounts every aspect of pirate life and lore. Best yet, you won’t need SparkNotes to jog your memory of Treasure Island. Chupack takes care of that where necessary, and you will be surprised at how some of your favorites have their beginnings and their ends this time around.