The Pilot

The PilotThe Pilot by James Fenimore Cooper
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If anybody can spin a tale, it’s Jimmy Cooper, and I mean that with the utmost respect. He can literally put you in the story, in that time period, and given that none of us are from any but this one, can leave you confounded and a little unsettled. But then, the times were much that way in this story, so if that was the intent of Cooper, it was mission accomplished.

Set during the of the American revolution, our protaganists were on a mission for the congress of great importance, requiring them to sail into the teeth of the British empire to accomplish their mission. If not for the mysterious pilot they picked up on enemy shores, the story would no doubt have ended much earlier than it did. The initial harrowing description of navigating through treacherous shoals gave new meaning to the meme of the Navy being not just a job, but an adventure. The picture Cooper paints could easily be seen as something that you might want to see on the big screen. It would be quite a production, with dramatic depictions of sea life, and apparently, accurate descriptions of the operations of sailing vessels. Without being an expert on sailing such ships in the day, some parts were a little over my head, as they should be, but Cooper’s descriptions were still graphic enough that even us lubbers could get an idea of what was happening. The fledgling Americans also spoke as the Brits did, and in fact, were still seen as Brits, albeit treasonous and disgraceful subjects that deserved everything that should befall them. That said, the dialect of the officers of the story spoke of high education and manners-on both sides of the conflict. The propriety and manners elicted were refreshing in that we largely do not see these kinds of gentleman anymore. Barnstable and his nemesis Bouroughcliffe were my favorites. It was challenging to reconcile that with the fact that, in the end, these were shit-kickin’ killers that would run a cutlass through you with no hesitation if the situation warranted it. But Cooper does reconcile it masterfully, and you learn to both fear and respect the men who would risk all for duty and honor. And risk all they did.

As brave and gallant as these men were though, they had their proverbial Achille’s heel. And they were beautiful, and capricious, and irresistible, and made things infinitely more complicated than they needed to be. But, if something is worth having, it’s worth fighting for. The congress that sent the Americans on their mission might have had a thing or two to say about the love interests of men that led the charge, but then, the congress wasn’t there, now were they?

It would be hard to say if there were actually main characters; in reality, there were several, depending on what part of the story you were reading, but nonetheless, the story flowed nicely, and Cooper ties up with a bow near the end. In the interim, there is blood, strategy, honor, deceit, humility, tragedy, and even a bit of comedy, if even in an affrontery sort of way. Each adjective describes a powerful, page turning part of the story. Better you read about it, than me giving it away.

Just a few minor criticisms, with and emphasis on minor. As I mentioned, the nautical terms were, for the most part, over my head, and that is on me, not Cooper, but again, getting a visual usually overcame my ignorance of what Cooper was actually describing. Then there were a few conversations that frankly could have been left out. The sailor tormenting the slave on the way to the cutter had nothing to do with the story. Boltrope’s drunken rant with the parson was another one. Certainly, nothing that ruined the story.

Very close to a five star, but there is no shame in four.

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