Pirate Freedom

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Pirate Freedom
Pirate Freedom cover.jpg
Cover of first edition
AuthorGene Wolfe
IllustratorDavid Grove
Cover artistDavid Grove
CountryUnited States
GenreFantasy novel
Publication date
Media typePrint (Hardback & Paperback)
Pages320 pp
813/.54 22
LC ClassPS3573.O52 P75 2007

Pirate Freedom (2007) is a fantasy novel by Gene Wolfe about a young man who is transported back in time and becomes a pirate.


The majority of the book is set in the Caribbean and nearby regions during the "Golden Age of Piracy". It takes place mostly if not entirely after Henry Morgan burned Panama City (1671)[1] and before the earthquake that destroyed Port Royal, Jamaica (1692).[2]

The rest of the book appears to be set in the early 21st century. The hero is genetically engineered to be tall, and at the time of his birth, monorails are common in the United States, so his birth is in the near future of the time the book was published[3] or in a parallel universe.[4]

Plot summary[edit]

The hero is named Christopher (Chris, Crisóforo, Christophe). He recounts his childhood and career as a pirate, interspersed with digressions about events in his later life, including the time when he is writing the book (as in The Book of the Short Sun). The following summarizes his story in the order in which he experiences it.

Chris is a Sicilian-American. When he is ten, Communism ends in Cuba, and his father (apparently a "wiseguy") moves there with him to run a casino. Chris goes to school at a monastery, where he becomes a novice and helps a Brother Ignacio with the farm work. At one point, he notices that many of the people he knew are gone, Mass is in Latin, and no one wears a watch. Somewhat later, he walks away from the monastery.

A farmer in a horse-drawn wagon picks him up and takes him to Havana—but the roads are unpaved and Havana is much smaller than he remembers. Chris lives by theft until he signs on to a Spanish brig bound for Veracruz, Mexico. He is raped twice by shipmates, but thereafter manages to avoid them, and he enjoys learning military seamanship.

In Veracruz he meets an English captain, Abraham Burt. Then Chris's ship sails to Spain, where he becomes infatuated with Estrellita, the maid of a wealthy young married woman. Her master puts a stop to the relationship.

He returns to his ship, but on the way back to Mexico they are captured by English pirates under Captain Burt, who takes him on to the pirate ship. They capture a Spanish slave ship, and Burt puts Chris in charge of taking it to Port Royal. When he returns, having freed a few of the slaves, he refuses to join in piracy and Burt abandons him on Hispaniola.

There a French buccaneer (a settler in the wilderness) helps him survive. They and other buccaneers capture a small Spanish warship sent against them, and Chris assumes command. A "boy" on the ship reveals herself as a woman who Chris knew in Spain; Chris takes her to be the maid Estrellita, but calls her "Novia", meaning "sweetheart". They become lovers.

After fights against the Spanish, Chris and his crew meet with Burt. An allied ship has captured a Spanish galley and its owner. The passengers had included one Jaime Guzmán and his wife. Chris deduces Señora Guzmán's hiding place and finds that she is Estrellita; Novia is Guzmán's real wife and Estrellita's former mistress. Guzmán had beaten Novia because—she says—she too was in love with Chris. Though Chris is angry with Novia for lying to him, she still loves him and they reconcile.

Chris rejoins Burt, and their fleet engages in successful and unsuccessful piracy, sailing around South America. At Río Hato, Panama, they rob a mule train of Peruvian gold. That night one crew massacres the rest of the pirates and takes the gold. Chris escapes and finds the dying Burt, who gives him his maps to the treasure he has buried on the Pearl Islands.

Chris and Novia marry in Veracruz. Chris runs into Brother Ignacio and hires him to take care of Novia while Chris reclaims Burt's treasure. He sets out single-handed, but is wrecked and on the last page of the book[5] is rescued by Mexican fishermen who have a radio.

He makes his way to the United States and enters a seminary,[6] then becomes a priest. He resists the temptation to visit the home where his child self lives.[2]

The Cuban Communists fall, and Chris heads to Cuba. He has realized Brother Ignacio was his older self. Finishing his manuscript on a plane to Miami, he explains that he plans to enter his childhood monastery as a lay brother named Ignacio, follow young Chris out of the monastery into 17th-century Cuba, go to Veracruz to meet him and take care of Novia, and eventually take his place as her husband and recover Burt's treasure.

Religious aspects[edit]

The book includes religious symbols (including the name of the protagonist) and experiences. It begins with Chris's declaration that he often reads about the lives of people who have sought God and found him, but that he has ". . . either never lost Him, or I have never sought Him."[7] At one point, in response to a prayer of repentance, Chris hears the voice of God as an audible sound.[8]

Chris believes that boys should know how to fight and be willing to so that older boys can, among other things, defend themselves from molestation by priests. When he is a priest in an urban parish, he knocks down teenagers who cause problems in the Youth Center. In another parish, he reinstitutes the Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.


Chris tells his story in an informal style reminiscent of Wolfe's Wizard Knight (narrated by another young American man), but slangier and more irreverent.[3] His narration includes elements not usually seen in formal narrative, such as colloquial Italian ("alla grande"[9]), profanity in Italian and English ("merda"[10] and "shit"[11]), a private joke that he then explains,[12] and capitals for emphasis.[13] He also uses "parlay" to mean "parley".[14]


Paul Di Filippo described Pirate Freedom as "remarkably straightforward for Gene Wolfe" and "rip-snorting". He praised the minor characters and the accurate depiction of the period, adding that "Wolfe also makes sure to substitute hard reality in place of any cliché".[3]

Paul Witcover called the book "deceptively breezy" and "surprisingly dark", and said it dealt with deep Christian questions. For him it was "distasteful in many ways" but "a small masterpiece". He too regarded the adventure as "rousing".[4]

Di Filippo saw Chris as charmingly naive, "no matter how bloody his hands get or how many skirts he lifts".[3] However, Witcover saw Chris, the product of genetic engineering who may not have a mother, as "a half-human monster" (a phrase Chris uses about himself[15]), largely unrepentant and lacking empathy. For him, Chris's only redeeming (perhaps in the literal Christian sense) quality is his love for Novia.[4]

The book was a finalist for the Locus Award for best fantasy novel.[16]


  1. ^ Pirate Freedom, p. 252
  2. ^ a b Pirate Freedom, p. 226.
  3. ^ a b c d Di Filippo, Paul (November 19, 2007). "Pirate Freedom". Sci Fi Weekly. Sci Fi.com. Archived from the original on July 7, 2008. Retrieved 2008-12-26.
  4. ^ a b c Witcover, Paul (November 20, 2007). "Gene Wolfe's Pirate Freedom". The Inferior 4 + 1. LiveJournal. Retrieved 2008-12-26.[permanent dead link] Reprinted from the January, 2008 (?) Realms of Fantasy.
  5. ^ Other than a glossary.
  6. ^ Pirate Freedom, p. 139.
  7. ^ Pirate Freedom, p. 17
  8. ^ Pirate Freedom, p. 193
  9. ^ Pirate Freedom, p. 66.
  10. ^ Pirate Freedom, pp. 24, 66, 191
  11. ^ Pirate Freedom, pp. 22, 62.
  12. ^ Pirate Freedom, p. 270.
  13. ^ Pirate Freedom, p. 312.
  14. ^ Pirate Freedom, pp. 96, 200. One trusts this is not the copyeditor's error.
  15. ^ Pirate Freedom, p. 147
  16. ^ "2008 Award Winners & Nominees". Worlds Without End. Retrieved 2009-07-07.