‘Weary of all the Pirates of the Caribbean films where no black characters play a significant role, and outraged by the depiction of Friday in Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, I set to work creating a black heroine fit for modern times.’ And in this story Alex Wheatle triumphantly does just that. His heroine Kemosha is only 15, but despite starting out as a slave in Jamaica in 1698 still manages to escape to a new freedom, eliminating a number of brutish white would-be jailors in the process. Beautiful as well as brave, she is constantly threatened by men out to rape her. Compared to descriptions of routine plantation barbarism, the sexual abuse accompanying slavery has always been less commented on in fiction. Wheatle brings this shameful aspect into full focus, and although Kemosha just manages to escape this particular torture, she comes across other black young women who do not.
But while the prevailing spirit in this story is justifiable fury about past black suffering there are lighter moments. Kemosha can be bitingly funny, and thinks and talks in an attractive Jamaican-style patois. At other times she calls upon the black Gods of her own religion for comfort and support. On the run from her vile owners, she hikes a voyage with the infamous pirate captain, Sir Henry Morgan. Conditions on his ship are vividly brought to life, as is her horror on discovering how vicious the crew could be to anyone in their way, old or young, once on the mainland and hunting for Spanish gold. The pirates who drink and whore while waiting for the next looting expedition are not the stuff of popular heroes, with the lethal sword-fighting skills Kemosha has picked up coming in very useful here on several occasions. Finally opting for a relationship with another woman her own age makes sense after so much experience of male viciousness.
Wheatle is a born entertainer as well as a black writer with a mission. This latest story is not just a splendid read; it would also make a stirring film.