Review by C.J. Bunce
Sea of Thieves is a first-person shared world action-adventure game pirate adventure, allowing players to sail a legendary world alone or with a crew of up to four players, rooted in that oft’ cited early roleplaying game Oregon Trail—live or die by your actions and your wits. Well, Ahoy there, matey! Microsoft has partnered with Titan Books for its third tie-in to the game (check out my review of Tales from the Sea of Thieves here). Sea of Thieves: Heart of Fire is the latest novel following up on the first novel, Athena’s Fortune—with both novels written by game creator Chris Allcock. If you’ve dreamed about venturing into the high seas in the age of pirates and pillaging, Sea of Thieves: Heart of Fire is for you. Inspired by a world fleshed out in popular fiction by Robert Louis Stevenson and popularized most recently in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, anyone young and old will find this book a quick, easy read full of all the tropes of pirate lore. And this time readers will learn the backstory of the game’s infamous Captain Flameheart.
Released in March 2018, the game features greatest appeal are its visuals, opting for a cartoon-like palette versus a photo-real world, and its cooperative gameplay. Allcock’s story plays into that, as it leans away from serious seafaring storytelling, such as found in the detailed ship descriptions of Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey-Maturin novels, or the serious drama and romance of C.S. Forester’s Horatio Hornblower books. This is much closer in tone and lighthearted nature to Stevenson’s Treasure Island, the kid adventure The Goonies, Netflix’s recent adventure for kids Finding ‘Ohana, and Ray Harryhausen’s mythology fantasies.
At times the storytelling evokes a pirate barker at a 1950s Disneyland beckoning guests to board the actual Pirates of the Caribbean ride. Allcock would be well-suited to write scripts for the ride or the film series.
Allcock takes great strides in populating his book with several swashbuckling women, with the star protagonist a young shipwright named Jill, who longs to take a sea voyage with the pirates that come to port in this world that blends 17th to 19th century pirate elements with pure fantasy. So get ready for ghosts, skeleton shipmates (one that’s described much like Ghost Rider (without the bike), and giant sea beasties, with only the barest of nods to historical elements. Argh! (that is pirate Argh, not Charlie Brown Argh).
Jill takes inspiration from Stevenson’s young Jim Hawkins. Other characters borrow bits and pieces from Pirates of the Caribbean guest characters (who in turn borrowed much from centuries of sea stories), as well as Peter Pan. Readers will not find a lot of sea chanteys, but plenty of gold, hidden treasure, and secret keys. Also, an eye patch or two, a fellow with a peg leg, another with a hand for a hook (er, make that a hook for a hand), and swinging cutlasses. There’s violence, but it’s of the Disney movie variety, perfect for kids and young adult readers.
As with the fun tie-in book Tales from the Sea of Thieves, this game-inspired novel has two potential audiences: those excited about the game and interested in more related content, and as a springboard for those who know little about pirates and life at sea, all toward Pirates of the Caribbean, Horatio Hornblower, Jack Aubrey, Long John Silver, and the legion of nonfiction and fiction books on the subject.