Title: Blackhearts
Author: Nicole Castroman
Genre: Historical Fiction, YA
Rating: ★☆☆☆☆ || 1.0

Anne Barrett is the mixed race child of a wealthy British merchant and an escaped West Indian slave. Edward Drummond is the privileged son of one of Bristol’s wealthiest men. Yet they are trapped under the same roof.

Following the death of her father and the subsequent loss of her fortune, Anne has been working as a servant for Master Drummond, secretly pilfering valuables from his house in order to save up enough money to sail away from England, to see the Caribbean homeland she never knew. Edward “Teach” Drummond, on the other hand, wants nothing more than to spend his life on the high seas, where his father had made his fortune. But all his father wants is for him to marry into nobility, to not take the risks the older man had to.

This is the story of the man who would be Blackbeard.

And it is so. freaking. racist. And sexist.

I don’t even know how to begin.

First things first, I should say that I DNF’ed this about a third of the way in (seems to be my curse) and I might finish it later just because I’m curious enough about the progression of the non-relationship between Teach and Anne to continue, but this was so rife with sexist and racist tropes that I honestly began to think that I was living in 1716 and not 2016.

First of all things, Anne is immediately established as the daughter of a British merchant who “liberated” her mother from slavery. The completely unequal dynamics of that relationship are never discussed, and Anne’s father is treated as this angel of man who did absolutely no wrong, even though there is something so sketchy about a white British merchant framed as the liberator and saviour of an enslaved Black woman, particularly when it was the interests of British merchants that caused the establishment of sugar plantations in the West Indies to begin with.

It’s not that, given this, Anne’s father cannot still be established as a good man, but if you submerge these concerns and never, ever address them, it just says that, at best you’re unaware that these are issues (in which case, why are you writing a novel about a biracial protagonist), at worst you’re willfully ignorant (in which case, why are you writing a novel about a biracial protagonist).

There’s also the fetishisation that Anne undergoes from her love interest (a supposedly progressive man who wants to abolish slavery; God are our standards for basic human decency so low that that’s how we measure goodness). The constant fetishisation.

“I could easily picture you as a Misikto princess, dressed in animal skins from head to toe.”

Anne’s face flooded with warmth, and she stood, disconcerted by the light in his eyes and the boldness of his words.

I actually would not have a problem with the fetishisation––if it was written as such. If it was framed as such. If it was pointed out that it’s not a good thing, not a compliment. But it’s taken as a compliment. It’s taken as praise of Anne’s beauty. It’s taken as evidence of how special our protagonist is, especially compared to Other Girls.

And she’s always being compared to Other Girls. Specifically, Other Girls are constantly being denigrated because Anne is so much better. And smarter. And pure and virtuous and innocent. Compared, of course, to those other low classpoorly read sluts.  Because why not be a sexist fuck who looks down on people who either cannot afford to or just plain don’t want to have the same sort of education you have? Why not judge other people because their priorities are different than yours? Reading Milton is the only litmus test of social worth, right? And keeping your legs closed the only road to morality?

Teach groaned inwardly. She was a baron’s daughter. How could she not know of Milton? Teach’s mother had often read Milton’s works in the evening. He remembered sitting near the fire, listening, inspired by the prose so full of passion for freedom and self-determination.

I mean, nice job missing the point of Paradise Lost for one, and for two, even if this was meant to demonstrate Teach and Anne’s mutual love for freedom, what does it say about Teach (and metatextually, the author) as a man, to be looking down at a woman, any woman, for not reading the things she would not have been encouraged to read, baron’s daughter or not.

Not that Anne is exempt from this snobbery and elitism.

Anne often wondered what they would say if they knew she was the daughter of another wealthy merchant. It was obvious Anne was educated, whereas the two maids were not, just one more thing that set Anne apart from them.

The dress might have been new, and Anne could do her best to return it to its former splendor, but there was no denying that it was poorly made.

Much like Miss Patience herself.

Other girls are cheap. Other girls are stupid. Other girls are slutty. Therefore, Anne is objectively Better. This is a false equivalence set up by a value system that gives worth to women who stay within modes of accepted behaviour and morality. Perhaps Miss Patience would have been that in the 18th century, but Anne is that for us. And it’s not any less regressive for us than it would have been for them.

And man, the chemistry.

“I fail to understand how my opinion matters, sir.”

“Well, for some reason it matters to me. Answer the question. Please.”

This felt like the entire basis for their relationship. “For some reason.” Love doesn’t have to have a specified rationale––it often doesn’t, but it’s hard to convince me that a relationship founded on intimidation, antagonism (from someone who has the power to decide if you have a job or not), and assholery can be explained away by for some reason they are attracted to one another. Though perhaps this is me being unfair, since I’m assured this is a slow burn. I might even read to the end to find out. But nothing excuses the egregious sexism and blatant racism of this work, and I wouldn’t recommend it to anybody.

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