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Missing ‘Our Flag Means Death’? These 6 Pirate Books Will Satiate Your Need for Swashbuckling Adventures

Three pirate books. Image: Tordotcom, Candlewick Press, and  St. Martin’s Press.

While the popularity of pirates looks like it’s just springing up again (with the success of David Jenkin’s delightful show Our Flag Means Death), for us, pirates have never really gone out of fashion. They’ve remained in our shared imagination (well, beyond the Disney pirate franchise with a majority white cast set in the Caribbean).

However, over the last few years, science fiction has been doing the heavy lifting in the genre—from Yondu in Guardians of the Galaxy to various rebel aids in Star Wars. But as fun as space pirates are, there’s just nothing quite like pirates on the open sea. Not bound up by laws of society (just and unjust) and, to a degree, bureaucracy, these pirates—motivated by a desire for freedom and adventure—allow us to also feel a sense of adventure on the open sea. Hey, we could buy a boat and set sail right now! (Should we take sailing classes or something before we leave? Nah. The sea will tell us where to go and how to work the steering wheel!).

So, to tap into our need to head out, beyond the horizon, for a swashbuckling adventure, here are six fantastic books featuring pirates of the sea.

A Clash of Steels: A Treasure Island Remix by C.B. Lee

A Clash of Steels: A Treasure Island Remix by C.B. Lee – Image: Feiwel & Friends.
(Feiwel & Friends)

1826. The sun is setting on the golden age of piracy, and the legendary Dragon Fleet, the scourge of the South China Sea, is no more. Its ruthless leader, a woman known only as the Head of the Dragon, is now only a story, like the ones Xiang has grown up with all her life. She desperately wants to prove her worth, especially to her mother, a shrewd businesswoman who never seems to have enough time for Xiang. Her father is also only a story, dead at sea before Xiang was born. Her single memento of him is a pendant she always wears, a simple but plain piece of gold jewelry.

But the pendant’s true nature is revealed when a mysterious girl named Anh steals it, only to return it to Xiang in exchange for her help in decoding the tiny map scroll hidden inside. The revelation that Xiang’s father sailed with the Dragon Fleet and tucked away this secret changes everything. Rumor has it that the legendary Head of the Dragon had one last treasure–the plunder of a thousand ports–that for decades has only been a myth, a fool’s journey.

Xiang is convinced this map could lead to the fabled treasure. Captivated with the thrill of adventure, she joins Anh and her motley crew off in pursuit of the island. But the girls soon find that the sea–and especially those who sail it–are far more dangerous than the legends led them to believe.

A Song of Silver and Gold by Melissa Karibian

A Song of Silver and Gold by Melissa Karibian – Image: Hansen House.
(Hansen House)

Out in the open sea, it’s kill or be killed. No one knows that better than Kaelyn. For the past year, Princess Kaelyn of Avalon has disguised herself as a man, Captain Kae, and led her crew into tumultuous waters to eradicate sirens on a journey fueled by revenge for the death of her brother. When they return home and experience a fatal siren attack on Avalon’s harbor, Kae sets sail again to destroy the sea demons once and for all.

Aqeara is a siren warrior of Meyrial, an underwater kingdom hidden from humans. When her negligence during the Avalon harbor attack causes the death of Meyrial’s princess, she accepts the help of a sea witch to overturn her banishment. Aqeara is given a human body and has until the next full moon to carve out Captain Kae’s heart in exchange for a spell to bring the dead princess back to life.

When Kae’s and Aqeara’s paths cross, they fall into a whirlwind romance, complicating their respective plans. Kae must decide whether her desire for revenge against sirens overrides her feelings for the woman she’s falling for, and Aqeara must choose between resurrecting the dead princess or sparing Kae’s life.

The Black God’s Drums by P. Djèlí Clark

The Black God’s Drums by P. Djèlí Clark – Image: Tordotcom.
(Tordotcom)

In an alternate New Orleans caught in the tangle of the American Civil War, the wall-scaling girl named Creeper yearns to escape the streets for the air—in particular, by earning a spot on-board the airship Midnight Robber. Creeper plans to earn Captain Ann-Marie’s trust with information she discovers about a Haitian scientist and a mysterious weapon he calls The Black God’s Drums.

But Creeper also has a secret herself: Oya, the African orisha of the wind and storms, speaks inside her head, and may have her own ulterior motivations.

Soon, Creeper, Oya, and the crew of the Midnight Robber are pulled into a perilous mission aimed to stop the Black God’s Drums from being unleashed and wiping out the entirety of New Orleans.

Child of a Hidden Sea (Hidden Sea Tales #1) by A.M. Dellamonica

Child of a Hidden Sea by A.M. Dellamonica – Image: St. Martin’s Press.
(St. Martin’s Press)

One minute, twenty-four-year-old Sophie Hansa is in a San Francisco alley trying to save the life of the aunt she has never known. The next, she finds herself flung into the warm and salty waters of an unfamiliar world. Glowing moths fall to the waves around her, and the sleek bodies of unseen fish glide against her submerged ankles.

The world is Stormwrack, a series of island nations with a variety of cultures and economies–and a language different from any Sophie has heard.

Sophie doesn’t know it yet, but she has just stepped into the middle of a political firestorm, and a conspiracy that could destroy a world she has just discovered…her world, where everyone seems to know who she is, and where she is forbidden to stay.

But Sophie is stubborn, and smart, and refuses to be cast adrift by people who don’t know her and yet wish her gone. With the help of a sister she has never known, and a ship captain who would rather she had never arrived, she must navigate the shoals of the highly charged politics of Stormwrack, and win the right to decide for herself whether she stays in this wondrous world…or is doomed to exile.

The Mermaid, The Witch, and The Sea by Maggie Tokuda-Hall

The Mermaid, The Witch, and The Sea by Maggie Tokuda-Hall – Image: Candlewick Press.
(Candlewick Press)

The pirate Florian, born Flora, has always done whatever it takes to survive—including sailing under false flag on the Dove as a marauder, thief, and worse. Lady Evelyn Hasegawa, a highborn Imperial daughter, is on board as well—accompanied by her own casket. But Evelyn’s one-way voyage to an arranged marriage in the Floating Islands is interrupted when the captain and crew show their true colors and enslave their wealthy passengers.

Both Florian and Evelyn have lived their lives by the rules, and whims, of others. But when they fall in love, they decide to take fate into their own hands—no matter the cost.

Compass Rose (Compass Rose #1) by Anna Burke

Compass Rose by Anna Burke – Image: Bywater Books. Compass Rose #1
(Bywater Books)

Rose was born facing due north, with an inherent perception of cardinal points flowing through her veins. Her uncanny sense of direction earns her a coveted place among the Archipelago Fleet elite, but it also attracts the attention of Admiral Comita, who sends her on a secret mission deep into pirate territory.

Accompanied by a ragtag crew of mercenaries and under the command of Miranda, a captain as bloodthirsty as she is alluring, Rose discovers the hard way that even the best sense of direction won’t be enough to keep her alive if she can’t learn to navigate something far more dangerous than the turbulent seas.

Aboard the mercenary ship, Man o’ War, Rose learns quickly that trusting the wrong person can get you killed—and Miranda’s crew have no intention of making things easy for her—especially the Captain’s trusted first mate, Orca, who is as stubborn as she is brutal.

This swashbuckling 26th century adventure novel is smart, colorful and quirky, yet it manages to deliver a healthy dose of heart, humor, and humility on every single page.

(image: Tordotcom, Candlewick Press, and St. Martin’s Press)

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(she/her) Award-winning digital artist and blogger with an interest in art, politics, identity, and history—especially when they all come together. This Texan balances book-buying blurs with liberal Libby use.