Rabbit Room Press, 2009
"Now then," he said and carefully thumbed up the latches on the case. He opened it and Fin and Peter leaned forward to see what was inside. The box was lined in red velvet, and the bottom half was molded to hold three habitants. The first was a violin, glowing lusty red in the firelight. The curves and luster of it were stunning, feminine. It was the most delicate and graceful thing Fin had ever seen. The second object was the violin's bow, long and elegant, strung with white hair. The third object in the box was a Spanish blunderbuss, made of dark red wood and adorned with silver flourishes. The handle was engraved with an ornate B and embellished with festooning swirls and curves. It was as beautiful as the violin but graceless and menacing, its barrel flared out like a mouth yawning open into a scream.
"Now, see here, you got to put that hurt someplace, and this is where old Bartimaeus learned to put his." He lifted the fiddle out of the case and caressed it.
"It's beautiful," whispered Fin.
"Aye," he said and crooked it into his neck. He drew the bow across the strings and the instrument moaned a forlorn note. "Beautiful, that's what you got to do with that hurtin', you got to turn it beautiful."
* * *
Phineas Michael "Fin" Button was born the thirteenth daughter to a man who wanted a son—so, naturally, she grew up in an orphanage, wearing a boy's name and, whenever possible, dirty trousers. She can out-cuss and out-fistfight the boys, and she mostly ignores or sasses the girls, including the two sisters who run the orphanage.
In her late teens, as the American south erupts into pre-war skirmishes with the British, she's ready to marry Peter LaMee, the only person in the world who makes her feel like a girl and like it. Before they can wed, however, she inherits a fiddle and gun from an old reformed pirate, followed by a life of crime from a violent and lustful Redcoat. Faced with unforgiving law, Fin runs for the sea, where she learns to use Bart Gann's gun as easily as she uses his violin—but she never stops writing to Peter LaMee.
* * *
Before I get to the interior: Evie Coates' spectacular cover art is one of my favorite things about this book. It's absolutely beautiful.
A.S. "Pete" Peterson, like his brother Andrew, is one of the more gifted evangelical Protestant writers whose medium of choice is the novel. I got outright enthused over the attractive prose, humor, and thoughtful poignancy in the first few chapters. The book later left some of the stronger literary currents and sailed in the direction of straightforward adventure story, which cost me some of my enthusiasm, as I'm not much of a straightforward adventure story fan, but those who prefer extroverted adventure to prolonged introspection should enjoy the tale with ease.
Lesser writers can fail to interest me in angry, violent characters, so it's very much to Peterson's credit that I liked Fin. Her favorite shipmates, Bartimaeus, and Peter are all quite lovable, and crazy Captain Creache is a proper swashbuckling villain. The gun, Betsy, is a character in her own right, and Peterson's detail—engaging throughout—is particularly arresting whenever Fin interacts with the weapon.
Apart from faint hints of stilting in the prose, the dialect sometimes feeling a tad off, and the light but unmistakable flavor of modern nondenominational thought—aspects of which taste a bit out-of-place in a historical spread—there's really nothing to complain about. Those flaws are so minor that it seems unfair to mention them, and I wouldn't bother if they didn't rank so highly among my literary pet peeves. I do, however, intend to read the sequel, out of curiosity about Fin's further adventures on the high seas and a healthy share of concern regarding Peter LaMee.