Updated: May 3
Ever since the release of Pirates of the Caribbean, I feel like pirate stories have taken on a new and comical flavor. Monsters of the Sea is the first book in The Skeleton Keys Chronicles series, and it introduces readers to a boy named Gruel who has known little more than the inside of a tavern and the pirates who frequent it for his entire life. Adventure calls to him, but he does not expect to ever find himself able to participate in one. Until, that is, a man named Pegleg Pete offers Gruel an opportunity he cannot refuse. Funny and fast-paced, this is an enjoyable tale for newer middle grade readers. Please see my full review below!
Nearly everyone has the desire for adventure residing deep inside, no matter their age or vocation. Thirteen-year-old Gruel is no exception, having grown up under the care of an unpleasant woman named Mrs. Brown after being left behind by his parents as an infant. However, spending time cleaning the Black Flagon tavern means that Gruel is surrounded by pirate stories that whisk him away from his lackluster life in Port Royal, if only in his mind. But when a brawl and a mighty storm break out one night, Gruel finds himself in the company of Pegleg Pete, a pirate who invites Gruel on an adventure he will never forget.
Written for a newer middle grade audience, this book reads quickly thanks to short chapters and an energetic plot. Much of the text is delivered in succinct, direct sentences, giving readers the information they need to understand the story without superfluous elements. Though minimal world-building is done in this novel, more is not necessary; the plot is able to progress easily on its own, and readers will be more interested in the action than extraneous details.
Pirate lovers will be riveted by this short novel thanks to its funny and accessible delivery. The interactions between characters are often comical, and readers are sure to enjoy the lighthearted dialogue and action sequences, as well. Throughout the story, pirate phrases and terminology are interwoven into the text, and a definition of each is included at the end of the chapters where they are first mentioned. These definitions enhance the reader’s comprehension of not only the book specifically, but also pirate lore in general.
Fans of the levity found in The Princess Bride and Pirates of the Caribbean will eagerly embrace this book. As the story progresses, there are often occasions when the truth has been either embellished or omitted, leaving Gruel scrambling to determine whom to trust. But even when honesty prevails, Gruel finds himself with even more questions to answer. Braced for a sequel, this book does a very good job introducing readers to Gruel and his companions along with the greater challenge that encompasses the series as a whole. This is an enjoyable pirate adventure for newer middle grade readers.
Twelve-year-old Sam is settling into his role as cabin boy for the infamous pirate captain Henry Morgan. Despite having the heart for piracy, however, there is much Sam still must learn before becoming a pirate himself. This newest adventure will test the mettle of everyone on the crew as they scour the Caribbean for the coveted Skeleton Keys and prevent them from being intercepted by the Old Witch of the Sea. Though they are plagued by nightmares of the frightening Kraken and find themselves at war with the evil Don Alonso, Sam and his pirate companions are determined to achieve their goal and the booty that will doubtless accompany it.
This second book in the Skeleton Keys Chronicles series picks up shortly after the first book ends as Sam is finding his sea legs and becoming comfortable with life on a pirate ship. Like the first book, this second installment likewise includes a plethora of footnotes that define the ample pirate references included in the text. Short chapters and rich humor keep the story moving forward with ease, and readers will appreciate not only the lighthearted nature of the story but also the underlying thread of Sam and his journey to becoming more confident in who he is.
Readers who enjoy pirate stories like Pirates of the Caribbean will love reading this series. Each book is accessible to reluctant readers while still providing a plot that will appeal to more confident readers. Occasional strong language and pirate deeds make this series best suited to more mature middle grade readers, but the overall delivery will be enjoyed by older readers, as well. Throughout this second novel, the focus shifts from the pirate perspective to that of the Spaniards, giving readers insight into the intentions of both sides of the conflict that drives the narrative. Funny, action-packed, and filled with pirate vernacular, this is an excellent sequel that will be devoured by eager readers and leave them anxiously awaiting the third installment.
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