In the land of Saros, young Gareth's fishing village is wiped out by Slavers from across the sea, and he has to go and live with his wealthy uncle in the capital city. There he makes friends and enemies, meets girls, etc etc. But when he goes to sea in his uncle's mercantile fleet, he sees that becoming a pirate and raiding Slaver ships will give him an opportunity for revenge as well as status and riches.
This is to some extent a rights of passage book: young man's family is killed, he grows up, finds first love, finds himself and so on. And with such a youthful protagonist - Gareth is just fifteen at the beginning of the book and still very young at the end, Corsair must be aimed at the younger range of readers of adult fantasy. It is also, however, an intelligent and entertaining adventure story.
Bunch is successful in raising interest in the people and places of Gareth's universe. Gareth's voyages, whether trading, visiting other lands, fighting or simply scenes at sea are done particularly well. The different societies in this imaginary world are nicely described. And although most of the characters are juvenile at the beginning, without much individual personality, there are enough interesting ones to make the book satisfactory.
Bunch also finds the right balance between using enough nautical terms to show that he has done his homework, or at least enough to impress landlubbers, without boring readers with too many technical terms. Could he be aiming at becoming the Patrick O'Brien of fantasy?
I am not so sure about where Bunch is going with the Slavers. A straightforward adventure series, set partly on the high seas, might have been sufficient. Instead, Bunch introduces some lizard 'overlord'-type things with mysterious motives and powers which threaten the very existence of the human world. Oh well, I suppose a series has to have a world in danger. For this is the first of a series, although the only sign of this on the cover of the book is a comment from a review in SFX magazine.
There are too many loose ends at the end of the book, and too many newly introduced strands, for it to stand completely alone. However, I would have no qualms recommending it is read before the rest of the series is available. If not on the world level, at least at Gareth's personal level, it concludes satisfactorily.
I have read other fantasy books by Chris Bunch (The Seer King series) which are peppered with some um unusual sex scenes. These did, I feel, reveal more about the author's personal preferences than do anything to take the story onwards. However, there is nothing like that in Corsair. I suspect such scenes were not included because a young readership was expected, and no doubt this audience is precisely the one which will be most disappointed by their absence. Instead, the sexual part of growing up is treated with the cloying coyness which is common in many fantasies for younger adults.
An essential lack of originality in construction and style means that this will never be one of the greats of fantasy literature. However, I am sure Bunch is honest enough to know that. Instead, he is telling a good adventure story set in an imaginary world. And this he does well.
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© Meredith 6 April 2002