Book Reviews

Monsters, Mermaids, and Magic

Monsters, Mermaids, and Magic

Jim Morgan and the Pirates of the Black Skull: James Matlack Raney

ames Matlack Raney, Jim Morgan and the Pirates of the Black Skull, fantasy, magic, monsters, pirates, skull, england, mermaids

Review by Ellie Benitez

As a child, I had always been a fan of swashbuckling tales filled with fantastical adventures, dastardly deeds, and enough magic to rival a Disney movie. So, when I was introduced to James Matlack Raney’s first novel, Jim Morgan and the King of Thieves, I quickly became excited by what was promised on the back cover:

A gypsy curse…

A shadow pirate…

An ancient treasure…

An adventure beyond mystery and magic!

And indeed, Raney made good on this promise. I ripped through that book and was successfully introduced to Jim Morgan, a spoiled brat who has to lose everything before he can find himself. Filled with magic treasures, pickpockets, and a loveable clan of three brothers, Jim Morgan and the King of Thieves delivers a fun-filled, fast-paced adventure.

When I opened up his second book, Jim Morgan and the Pirates of the Black Skull, I expected the same amount of magic, fun, and adventure.

I was wrong.

Raney somehow surpasses himself in his second novel, packing in nearly twice the amount of everything within this new installment of Jim Morgan’s adventures.

Unlike the first book, instead of being contained on the streets of London, we are whisked away to the high seas on board the pirate ship Spectre with the infamous pirate—and friend of Jim’s father—Dread Steele. At the beginning of the novel it seems that Jim is going to return to his old life of pleasure at his father’s manor, but he discovers his evil aunt has burned the house down in revenge for stripping it away from her and on top of that, the even more evil Count Cromier and his son Bartholomew have returned to kidnap Jim and his friends. But then Dread Steele saves them all and gets them safely aboard his ship so that they can find Jim’s father’s treasure—the great powerful and mysterious Heart of the Ocean—before the Cromiers. Jim is confident that he will be able to get the treasure and sate his thirst for revenge on the Cromiers for killing his father and all of the other horrible things they had done to him all in one fell swoop.

But what Jim doesn’t know is that great dangers lie in his path—dangers in the shape of monsters, mermaids, and magic.

Raney, while weaving his adventure tale, cleverly embeds values like honesty, courage, and loyalty that young readers need to hear more often. The change in Jim is obvious from the first book to the second, but Raney shows that the process of change and finding oneself is not static but continuous. Jim is far from perfect; he displays recognizable flaws that make him so much more relatable. We struggle with him and his sorrows just as much as we join in his pirate battles. Even Dread Steele, the notorious and feared pirate, offers Jim this encouragement that echoes throughout the rest of the book:

Yes, anywhere. But wherever that may be, Jim, know that there will be storms, and come they shall. The worst storms are not even those of rain and lightning and thunder. The worst storms are magic and monsters, pain and loss. It is in such storms that so many men lose their way. They let the gale and the waves toss the ship wherever they will. When you battle such storms, Jim, you must find the courage to turn into the great waves. You must face the lightening and the thunder. You must stay in command of your ship to sail through to the other side. If you don’t, you’ll be blown to wherever the wind takes you. Some men have lived their entire lives lost for fear of turning into the storm.

Raney has created a wholly unique world, and it is well worth the hours getting lost within it.


James Matlack Raney, Jim Morgan, Jim Morgan and the King of Thieves, Jim Morgan and the Pirates of the Black Skull

James Matlack Raney grew up all over the world, in Europe, Latin America, and Africa, before winding up in the mysterious land of horses and bluegrass – Kentucky. Now he calls Southern California home, writing adventures and occasionally living a few of his own. Besides writing adventures about magical treasures, scheming thieves, and daring pirates, he also enjoys playing guitar, reading a great book by the pool or at the beach, and seeing his far-away friends and family whenever he has the chance.




To preview and buy Jim Morgan and the King of Thieves, click HERE

To preview and buy Jim Morgan and the Pirates of the Black Skull, click HERE


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