Masted ships. The salty tang as a wide blue wave crashes onto a sandy shore. Sweaty, drunk defected sailors hiccupping through bawdy chanties. The pop and snap of a Jolly Roger flag.
The imagery around these figures (in fiction and nonfiction) evokes vivid tales of buried treasure, running from the Crown, and banding together in a fellowship of scoundrels. No wonder so many novels have leapt off the starboard railing and cannonballed into the endless indigo waters of pirate stories.
But what about the books that turn piracy inside out? The ones that plunk tightly-knit brigands into outer space or chuck scrappy rebels into dystopic high seas?
In my latest book, These Rebel Waves, dozens of rivers divide the fictional island of Grace Loray—rivers that contain much desired botanical magic. With the most valuable objects in the world nestled in riverbeds, the pirates in These Rebel Waves—known as stream raiders—take to steamboats to better help them navigate the narrow waterways. But they are pirates in their rebellion from traditional government, in their unity and pride in being outlaws; they are coldhearted and merciless, enacting their own justice and bowing to no one.
Pirates need not be limited to the island-dotted Caribbean or the richest ports throughout the historic world—some don’t even need to be limited by time at all.
Pacifica by Kristen Simmons
Climate change has altered the face of the world as we know it, flooding most of the land and warping the weather itself. Humanity struggles to divvy out the remaining resources, with many sections of society ostracized and all-out forgotten. Enter the corsarios—pirates who scrounge through the garbage-clogged seas, picking valuables out of the scraps and holding their outlaw community together with grit and determination. Simmons’ pirates are as brutal as their pull-no-punches world. If you aren’t big into recycling, Pacifica will change your mind—unless you think you have what it takes to be a scrappy (literally) dystopic trash pirate.
The Girl From Everywhere by Heidi Heilig
Nix, the main character in Heilig’s The Girl From Everywhere, isn’t bound by silly things like the laws of time and space. Her father’s ship can cross to any location—historical or not—so long as they have a map to follow. Let me summarize: time. traveling. pirates. What could go wrong? (Hint: everything, in a spectacular cacophony of history and present, timelines and regret.)
Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld
Okay, okay, the characters in Westerfeld’s Leviathan trilogy don’t call themselves pirates, but as the series unfurls, these characters deviate from the standard law-abiding path—which, in my opinion, gives them unofficial status as Pirates. This historical reimagining of World War I throws advanced steampunk technology in with—brace for impact—genetically engineered “beasties” used as living zeppelins. Flying steampunk pirates with terrifying beasties at their beck and call? Yes, it is as delicious as it sounds!
The Abyss Surrounds Us by Emily Skrutskie
Keeping with the theme of pirates and vicious beasts, may I submit for consideration the Reckoners in Skrutskie’s The Abyss Surrounds Us. Reckoners train genetically enhanced sea-beasts to protect ships from pirates and—wait, protect ships from pirates? How are Reckoners considered pirates, then? Well, you’ll have to read this story of monster-training pirates to find out!
Heart of Iron by Ashley Poston
No list of unconventional pirates is complete without everyone’s favorite trope: SPACE PIRATES. Poston’s Heart of Iron is the heart-racing, planet-jumping rip through outlaw-infested space you’ve been looking for—and it’s a retelling of Anastasia to top it off. A lost princess, a snarky pilot, characters more family than crew, and enough chases through the sky, land, and stars to get your blood churning like the stormy seas.
Sara Raasch has known she was destined for bookish things since the age of five, when her friends had a lemonade stand and she tagged along to sell her hand-drawn picture books too. Not much has changed since then: her friends still cock concerned eyebrows when she attempts to draw things, and her enthusiasm for the written word still drives her to extreme measures. She is the New York Times bestselling author of the Snow Like Ashes series. These Rebel Waves kicks off a new fantasy series—available August 7th from Balzer + Bray. You can visit her online at Tumblr and @seesarawrite on Twitter.