Barracuda Volume 1: Slaves.
Jean Dufaux and Jérémy.
Well, seeing as the last Cinebook offering with a maritime historical bent was the magnificent Long John Silver, I was crossing fingers Barracuda would do something similar. Sadly not, or at least not yet.
Instead, what we do get from the writer of Cinebook’s Crusade series, is the setup to what might, just might, be a quite good series. But it suffers because it’s not as well written as LJS, not as well drawn, and just doesn’t deliver the ‘wow’ factor that LJS did.
A lot of this is down to Dufaux spending too long scene-setting, crafting all the back-story just to get to the point where he has three very different children left on the pirate island of Puerto Blanco. I’ve no real problem with scene setting, no issue with devoting so much time to it either, it’s just that here it seems forced, artificial, whereas it should feel integral to the storyline. The entire thing could very easily have started well into this volume, covering everything in the first half or even three quarters of the book in flashback. It would have achieved the same thing, but done so far more satisfactorily.
(Child #1 – Raffy, son of the Barracuda’s Captain)
Okay, possibly a little unfair, because the buildup is actually pretty neatly done and an enjoyable bit of swashbuckling adventure, focussing on the three children and how they find themselves on the Pirate Island. Emilio, servant boy disguised as a girl to escape alive after the Barracuda captures his ship, killing all the men and selling the women to slavery. Maria, daughter of a Spanish noblewoman, both of whom are captured along with Emilio. And finally Raffy, son of the Barracuda’s Captain Blackdog, injured and unable to rejoin the ship after it calls at Puerto Blanco.
Three very different children, all stuck on the island, with subsequent volumes promising to follow events on the island and onboard the Barracuda, chasing the promise of the fabled Kashar Diamond.
(Children #2 and 3; Emily in the red dress, and Emilio, wearing the dress that saved his life onboard the Barracuda)
Artistically, it’s too pretty for the topics it’s covering, there’s just not enough grime and dirt here, although Jérémy’s colours are exquisite, especially his orange/reds found once the sun goes down. However pretty it may look is no excuse for the horrible lasciviousness of the art at times, worrying when we’re dealing with slavery, abuse and rape, it’s something that may have been alright many years ago, but not now. Sure, we know it went on, but you’d expect it to be dealt with with slightly less enjoyment. It’s simply not needed, and changing the plight of the slaves to something more realistic and brutal rather than slightly titillating would have been far better, strengthening the story.
And finally there’s the problem of Maria, who’s about 8 or 9 when we first see her, but whose features are quickly changed into a mini duplicate of her mothers, and later on, at the slave auction, Jérémy ages her in features, but especially in body. Not a comfortable moment.
(Maria in red dress – page 6)
(Maria carrying red dress in slave auction – page 24)
All in all, it’s a difficult first volume, uncomfortable undertones of being asked to enjoy the whole slavery moments contrasting with the action and adventure swashbuckling stuff dominating the first section. There’s potential for a much better story in here once we get past these difficult introductory moments. The subplots involving the politics of the island promise much, as does the adventure seeking that diamond, and Dufaux has certainly succeeded in populating Barracuda with interesting and colourful characters. A little less salaciousness and a little more realism would have served the tale far better.